Scientists catch glimpse of the way in which ladybugs fold wings

Scientists catch glimpse of the way in which ladybugs fold wings

Using high-speed cameras and CT scanners, a team of Japanese scientists have caught a glimpse of the highly complicated way in which ladybugs fold their wings.

The scientist from the University of Tokyo wanted to explore how ladybugs’ wings can be strong enough to fly with, but swiftly collapsible so they can be tucked out of the way. It may be noted here that the ladybugs’ wings are much larger than the wing cases they fold down to fit inside.

They replaced those black-spotted wing cases with transparent ones that were built out of a sort of UV-cured resin that is used in nail art. Those artificial wing cases, dubbed elytrons, allowed the scientists to see how the wings folded.

Professor Kazuya Saito, who led the study, “I wasn't sure if the ladybug could fold its wings with an artificial elytron made of nail-art resin. So I was surprised when I found out it could.”

The scientists said in a statement that their study could have great implications for a range of things, including umbrellas and aeronautics.

The researchers reported their findings in the most recent edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Ladybugs are highly mobile insects that can switch between walking and flying with ease and speed because they can quickly deploy and collapse their wings. Their wings consist of the hardened elytra, the forewings with the familiar spots, and the soft-membrane hindwings used for flight, which are covered and protected by the elytra.

Previous studies have suggested that up-and-down movements in the abdomen and complex origami-like crease patterns on the wings play an important role in the folding process, but how the simple motion produces such an intricate folded shape remained a mystery. Ladybugs close their elytra before wing folding, preventing observation of the detailed process, and as the elytra are essential elements for folding, they also cannot be removed to reveal what lies underneath.

To study the folding mechanism and structure, a Japanese research group constructed a transparent artificial elytron from ultraviolet light-cured resin—often applied in nail art—using a silicon impression of an elytron they removed from a Coccinella septempunctata spotted ladybug, and transplanted it to replace the missing forewing.

A report published by USA Today informed...

Japanese scientists were curious to learn how ladybugs folded their wings inside their shells, so they surgically removed several ladybugs’ outer shells (technically called elytra) and replaced them with glued-on, artificial clear silicone shells to peer at the wings’ underlying folding mechanism.

Why bother with such seemingly frivolous research? It turns out that how the bugs naturally fold their wings can provide design hints for a wide range of practical uses for humans. This includes satellite antennas, microscopic medical instruments, and even everyday items like umbrellas and fans.

“The ladybugs’ technique for achieving complex folding is quite fascinating and novel, particularly for researchers in the fields of robotics, mechanics, aerospace and mechanical engineering,” said lead author Kazuya Saito of the University of Tokyo.