Comparing flight strategies in species of fruit flies

Itai Cohen

Cornell, Physics

Observing different species of fruit flies offers an opportunity to compare flight
strategies for insects of varying size but of nearly identical body and wing
architecture. Using automated three-dimensional high-speed videography, we have
captured many beautiful flight sequences of untethered fruit flies. From this data
we have extracted the complete body and wing kinematics and determined the fluid
forces acting on the wings using custom-written tracking and analysis software. We
find that, in addition to lift, drag plays an important role in providing the
vertical force needed for these insects to stay aloft. Moreover, our data base in
combination with various numerical analysis techniques is allowing us to resolve
whether these insects are flapping in the most efficient manner possible. Answers to
this line of questions are important for determining what role if any evolution has
played in determining how these insect fly.