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Hovering flight in hummingbird hawkmoths: Kinematics, wake dynamics and aerodynamic power

Cite this dataset

Warfvinge, Kajsa; Johansson, Christoffer; Hedenström, Anders (2021). Hovering flight in hummingbird hawkmoths: Kinematics, wake dynamics and aerodynamic power [Dataset]. Dryad.


Hovering insects are divided into two categories: ‘normal’ hoverers that move the wing symmetrically in a horizontal stroke plane, and those with an inclined stroke plane. Normal hoverers have been suggested to support their weight during both downstroke and upstroke, shedding vortex rings each half-stroke. Insects with an inclined stroke plane should, according to theory, produce flight forces only during downstroke, and only generate one set of vortices. The type of hovering is thus linked to the power required to hover. Previous efforts to characterize the wake of hovering insects have used low-resolution experimental techniques or simulated the flow using computational fluid dynamics, and so it remains to be determined whether insect wakes can be represented by any of the suggested models. Here, we used tomographic particle image velocimetry, with a horizontal measurement volume placed below the animals, to show that the wake shed by hovering hawkmoths is best described as a series of bilateral, stacked vortex ‘rings’. While the upstroke is aerodynamically active, despite an inclined stroke plane, it produces weaker vortices than the downstroke. In addition, compared with the near wake, the far wake lacks structure and is less concentrated. Both near and far wakes are clearly affected by vortex interactions, suggesting caution is required when interpreting wake topologies. We also estimated induced power (Pind) from downwash velocities in the wake. Standard models predicted a Pind more than double that from our wake measurements. Our results thus question some model assumptions and we propose a reevaluation of the model parameters.


The data was collected using a tomoPIV setup in a horizontally aligned thin volume in the Lund University wind tunnel. The setup captures the wake of moths hovering at a feeder above the laser light sheet illuminating the tomo volume.

Usage notes

The data is structured as a matrix with x, y, z coordinates in the first columns, followed by the velocity vectors u,v,w. The time between each file in a sequence is 1/640 s.


Swedish Research Council, Award: 2016-03625

Swedish Research Council, Award: 2017-03890

Swedish Research Council, Award: 621-2012-3585

Swedish Research Council, Award: 621-2013-4596