Dragonflies are the newfound acrobats of nature. Researchers used high-speed cameras and CGI technology and found that dragonflies can do somersaults midair.
They do this mechanism as they catch their prey mid-air, approaching from below, they flip upside down to wrap their legs around their victims. Researchers believe that this maneuver is how dragonflies return to an upright stance when dropped upside-down.
Surprisingly, the researchers revealed that dragonflies perform backflips even when they are unconscious and when they are dead, ABC News reported.
Previous research about this backflip behavior has only been observed on land-based animals, such as cats, and aerial animals like hoverflies that rotate themselves around the head-to-tail axis when falling. This is also known as "rolling," although not much is known about how most insects right themselves from finding themselves upside down.
Keeping an Upright Stance Even Without Effort
Researchers from the Imperial College London published the new study in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, which showed that dragonflies most frequently perform upside down backflips, called pitching, to return to an upright stance midair.
Science Daily reported that the researchers also found that these insects can perform this task even while unconscious, suggesting that the maneuver is largely passive, a flight mechanism that allows planes to glide when their engines are switched off. That means the dragonflies are equipped with a potent physical design that keeps them right without doing much effort.
The findings on how dragonflies right themselves reveal how the shape and joint stiffness of their wings could provide them passive stability that could be used in improving the design of aerial vehicles, like drones.
"Engineers could take inspiration from flying animals to improve aerial systems. Drones tend to rely heavily on fast feedback to keep them upright and on course, but our findings could help engineers incorporate passive stability mechanisms into their wing structure," said senior author Dr. Huai-Ti Lin, of Imperial's Department of Bioengineering.
Samuel Fabian at Imperial College London said that passive stability could provide drones "with less computational effort."
Using High Technology To Capture Dragonflies Backflip
New Scientist reported that the researchers placed magnets and six motion-tracking markers on 20 male dragonflies that they had trapped in the wild. Then they placed the dragonflies either right side up or upside down on platforms under magnets.
When they lifted the magnets, the insects also drops and the researchers used a high-speed camera to capture the backflip the dragonflies did.
Next, they chilled the dragonflies for 20 minutes before dropping them to knock them out that ceases their neural function for a while.
Lastly, when the dragonflies died a natural death in the laboratory, they dropped the insects again in the resting positions it used when it was alive. Both wing and without wings insects propped up into the open.
According to Fabian, reconstructed 3D models of dragonflies reveal that the alert dragonflies somersaults in the air when they were dropped upside down. But what's more interesting is that even the unconscious dragonfly did the same, just slower than the alert dragonfly.
While the dead dragonflies dive first with their heads when dropped and then with wing poping, their bodies did a backflip to get upright, although they are spinning as they go down.
"It was clearly a mixture both of shape and muscle tone that engendered the animal's unconscious aerobatics," says Fabian.
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