Session 2A: Special Lecture
The biomechanics of insect flight
Abstract: Insects are ubiquitous and incredibly diverse. They comprise of >80% of the world's species and can be found in virtually all habitats on earth. A key factor of their evolutionary success is their ability to fly, which allowed them access to remote habitats and an edge in the competition for survival. Even today, we experience spectacular feats of insect flight, ranging from long distance migrations of the Globe Skimmer dragonflies or Monarch butterflies, to the incredibly fast aerial maneuvers of even common insects such as houseflies or mosquitoes. For instance, a common housefly can flap its wings more than 200 times a second, and make and execute complex decisions within the duration of the proverbial eye blink. The need for rapid wing movement puts extreme demands of insect physiology and nervous system, which also means that flight-related adaptations are some of the most compelling examples of evolution. To be able to carry out such aerial feats, insects need to sense and process their world, and generate motor output from their nervous system at very high rates. Not surprisingly, the study of insect nervous system has been a major preoccupation of comparative physiologists. Equally important has been the study of the mechanics and control of flight, which ensures that the flapping wings generate sufficient aerodynamic forces to ensure flight, while also making subtle changes in the wing attitude to ensure finely controlled maneuvers. In my seminar, I will focus on the topic of insect flight mechanics, and go over some recent work in my laboratory that relates to how wing movement is coordinated relative of the body to ensure the fine control of flight.