Flying With Dragonflies

Dragonflies use their flying speed and agility to capture insects such as mosquitoes that they eat for survival. We marvel at the quick maneuvers of dragonflies and appreciate their flying ability. Dragonflies can hover, turn in place, feed and even mate while flying. People who design flying robots are awed by the aerial performance of dragonflies and dream of designing robots that can fly with the speed and agility of dragonflies. Understanding how dragonflies are able to maneuver in flight can provide inspiration for building flying robots that can mimic dragonfly abilities.

The miniaturization of sensors provides the ability to collect new information from insects. Sensors that weigh one tenth as much as a dragonfly can be attached to the bottom of the thorax and send signals to remote devices. Electrical engineer, Matt Reynolds, from Duke University is experimenting with microchips to learn more about how dragonflies control their flight. His sensor can detect nerve signals and muscle movements and relay the signals to a remote receiver. The receiver can be powered remotely which greatly decreases its weight.

The plan is to release dragonflies, equipped with microchip transmitters into an arena where flight can be monitored. In addition to the nerve and muscle signals, the dragonflies will be videotaped to correlate the signals with the dragonfly movements. Small prey items such as fruit flies will be released into the arena to study how the dragonflies respond to prey.

Dragonfly and Microchip For Monitoring Flight Behaviors
Image: Duke University

This type of research can produce interesting and important information that will be used in ways not entirely imagined. Miniature electronics are providing a new set of tools to study interesting insect behaviors.

About jjneal

Jonathan Neal is a retired Associate Professor of Entomology at Purdue University and author of the textbook, Living With Insects (2010). This blog is a forum to communicate about the intersection of insects with people and policy. This is a personal blog. The opinions and materials posted here are those of the author and are in no way connected with those of my employer.
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