Butterfly Flight


Butterfly Approaches a Flower
Photo: Ernest Porter

Butterflies with large wings fly much differently than other groups of insects. The wing beat is slow, typically less than 10 per second. Human don’t hear sounds below 12 Hz. Other insects with faster wingbeats produce sounds at a frequency we can hear. The air movement from butterfly wings is inaudible.

Large wings enable butterflies to rise on local thermals and to glide effortlessly. Like many insects, butterflies fly with the head slightly above the abdomen which properly positions the wings to beat efficiently.  Their flight attitude positions appendages such as legs and mouthparts in line with the body where they are less exposed to the airstream and create less turbulence and drag.

The relatively large wings of butterflies can sustain damage without loss of flight ability.  Note the missing pieces of wing, possibly the result of a bird attack.

About jjneal

Jonathan Neal is an 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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