Have you ever wondered how certain bugs such as ladybugs are able to tuck such large wings into their shell when they aren’t flying? Well, some scientists in Japan were very curious about this marvel and decided to find out for themselves exactly how the ladybug tucks its wings back into its shell. They used some impressive technology to do this, but expect that their findings may actually lead to better and more advanced technology in areas like engineering, robotics, and even fashion.
First of all lets try to understand what it is about ladybugs that has Japanese scientists so excited. When you look at how sturdy and perfectly designed the ladybug’s wings are, you might start to get it. Those filmy wings on a ladybug are actually incredibly sturdy, able to keep the ladybug aloft for up to two hours, and fly as fast as 37 miles an hour. The ladybug can fly to altitudes that would equal three Empire State Buildings stacked vertically on top of each other. You would expect them to be made of steel or some other indestructible material and huge, complicated structures. But those same wings are also able to fold neatly and easily under their shell, tucked completely away so they don’t mess up the ladybug’s ability to function and walk around on the ground.
Kazuya Saito’s, an aerospace engineer at the University of Tokyo, deep interest is a bit more understandable now. Saito used high-speed cameras and 3D X-rays to capture the movement of the wing, and reveal exactly how they fold in their wings in great detail, so that humans could possibly copy it and use it to engineer more advanced sails and solar power systems for spacecraft. What really revolutionized the study and allowed the scientists to see the process in extreme detail was the transparent, artificial wing they used to replace one of the test ladybug’s colorful wings that would have blocked their ability adequately view the wing unfolding.
They were able to break down the entire process of the ladybug unfolding its wing, as well as the structure and mechanics of the wing. It’s like really complicated origami that requires perfect, precise folds, but the ladybug is able to perform this complicated feat dozens of times throughout the entire day. I’m impressed!
Have you ever picked up a ladybug and then watched it fly off again after a few seconds? What did you notice about their wings and the way they unfurled from beneath their shell?