How a dwarf beetle tricks aerodynamics

In flying animals, speed depends on size. A ladybug, for example, is slower than a griffon vulture. On the one hand, the braking surface shrinks relative to the body mass with increasing size, on the other hand, large wings can also generate more thrust. Very small animals even have an additional problem: if you are less than half a millimeter tall like the dwarf beetle Paratuposa placentis, the viscosity of the air begins to make itself felt. But that actually slows things down paratuposa not at all. The small insect flies even faster than its body size allows. Its speed is more befitting of an animal three times its size.

Experts led by Alexei A. Polilow from Lomonosov University in Moscow have now examined in detail how the tiny dwarf beetle circumvents the laws of aerodynamics. As the working group reports in Ā»NatureĀ«, the noticeable viscosity of the air actually helps it on its size scale. It allows him a wing shape that would definitely not work on a griffon vulture. Instead of using a wing membrane Paratuposa placentis a curved rod from which fine bristles radiate all around. The construct resembles a mixture of feather duster and down feather. But that alone does not explain the extraordinary flight performance of the dwarf beetle. Many very small beetles have such feathery wings.

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