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Butterflies fly using efficient propulsive clap mechanism owing to flexible wings

Citation

Johansson, Christoffer; Henningsson, Per (2021), Butterflies fly using efficient propulsive clap mechanism owing to flexible wings, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.4j0zpc87v

Abstract

Butterflies look like no other flying animal, with unusually short, broad and large wings relative to their body size. Previous studies have suggested butterflies use several unsteady aerodynamic mechanisms to boost force production with upstroke wing clap being a prominent feature. When the wings clap together at the end of upstroke the air between the wings is pressed out, creating a jet, pushing the animal in the opposite direction. Although viewed, for the last 50 years, as a crucial mechanism in insect flight, quantitative aerodynamic measurements of the clap in freely flying animals are lacking. Using quantitative flow measurements behind freely flying butterflies during take-off and a mechanical clapper, we provide aerodynamic performance estimates for the wing clap. We show that flexible butterfly wings, forming a cupped shape during the upstroke and clap, thrust the butterfly forwards, while the downstroke is used for weight support. We further show that flexible wings dramatically increase the useful impulse (+22%) and efficiency (+28%) of the clap compared to rigid wings. Combined, our results suggest butterflies evolved a highly effective clap, which provides a mechanistic hypothesis for their unique wing morphology. Furthermore, our findings could aid the design of manmade flapping drones, boosting propulsive performance.

Methods

The data was gathered using a tomoPIV setup, capturing a thin volume oriented perpendicular to the free-stream flow in a windtunnel. The images of the particles were analyzed using Davis 8.3.1, generating 3D vector fields of which the data uploaded here represents the middle slice of the volume. Images were captured at 640 Hz. 

Usage Notes

The butterfly data represents a volume with the first three columns being the coordinates of the volume (x, y, z), where the z-coordinate has been calculated from the frame rate of the cameras and the free stream velocity of the wind tunnel. The remaining three columns of date are the velocity components (u, v, w). 

The clapper data represents a single plane with the first three columns being the coordinates of the plane (x, y, z). The remaining three columns of date are the velocity components (u, v, w). The frame rate of the cameras are 640 Hz.

Funding

Vetenskapsrådet, Award: 2017-03890

Vetenskapsrådet, Award: 2018-04292