Research

WING GEOMETRIES: FINDING COMMON SHAPES

The size, shape and structure of insect wings are intimately linked to their ability to fly. However, there are few systematic studies of the variability of the natural patterns in wing morphology across insects. We have assembled a dataset of 789 insect wings with representatives from 25 families and performed a comprehensive computational analysis of their morphology.

CIRCULATION IN INSECT WINGS

Insect wings are dynamic sensory structures that enable insects to fly, pollinate, mate, and more. We still have a limited understanding of the fluid flow within an insect wing. Despite decades of research, the topic remains poorly understood by entomologists. As one of the few researchers measuring and quantifying flow in insect wings, I recently wrote a review with Dr. Jake Socha on the field of circulation in insect wings.

TOXIN SEQUESTRATION IN INSECT WINGS

Insect wings are living structures and represent a nexus between environmental toxins that impact insect physiology and circulation of hemolymph. Nonetheless, we know little of how circulation and flight behavior can be disrupted by pesticides such as neonicotinoids. Loss of beneficial insects and pollinators has direct and negative effects on agricultural yields, human health, and food security.

In an effort to better understand the accumulations of pesticides and plant toxins in insects, I wrote a USDA-NIFA-EWD proposal with Cornell professors, Dr. Sunghwan Jung and Dr. Anurag Agrawal to link 1) how insects functionally sequester toxins, how natural and applied toxins can 2) affect insect physiology such as circulation, 3) alter health and behavior, and 4) whether insects can be effectively monitored as sentinels in the field.

SWARM MECHANICS

In swarm state, thousands of honey bees surround a queen and actively search for a new nest site. Landing on trees, buildings, sometimes cars, honeybee swarms face a mechanical stability challenge: stay together, survive the elements. In this study, with collaborators Dr. Jacob Peters, Dr. Orit Peleg, and Dr. Lakshminarayanan Mahadevan, we tested swarm stability by attached swarms to vertical and horizontal motors. In this project, I learned from Dr. Peters how to work with honeybees, and I designed the motor and electronics needed to manipulate the swarms.

WHAT'S IN A WING?

In an on-going project Dr. Jake Socha (Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics, Virginia Tech), we scanned insect wings at the Advanced Photon Source (Argonne National Laboratory) to 3D model internal wing geometries.

Using the fast-scanning, high resolution capabilities of the tomography set up at beamline 2ID, we are able to measure hemolymph, tracheal branches, and vein thickness, continuously, throughout a wing. Pictured above is an example of a scan (wing is in a tube) of the forewing of the North American grasshopper, Schistocerca americana.

WING EXPANSION: FOLDED TO READY TO FLY

During metamorphosis, insect wings must expand from a soft, folded state to an expanded wing, stiff and ready to fly. This stage is an important bottleneck -- if performed incorrectly, the insect is not longer viable. Relatively unexplored, is "auto-expansion," a phenomena where an insect wing expands and unfolds, independent of the insect. Using the North American grasshopper, I investigate unfurling mechanics and the unique behavior of "auto-expansion."

DRAGONFLY TAKEOFFS

Dragonflies are voracious predators, performing micro-second aerial turns and backwards dives to grab prey. In flight, they have an asymmetric flight pattern, where forewings and hindwings flap in antiphase.

Efficient and powerful take-offs may require a different stroke coordination. Thus, using high-speed video of dragonfly takeoffs at the Concord Field Station, we analyze the behavior and kinematics.

Read about previous dragonfly work:

All media is created by Dr. Salcedo except that of the Monarch gif in the upper-right.

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