Findings on Ladybug Wings Could Lead to Advances in Umbrella Construction
Since the 1963 publication of “Deterministic Nonperiodic Flow” by Edward Lorenz, scientists and laypeople have pondered the butterfly effect, which Merriam-Webster defines as “a property of chaotic systems (such as the atmosphere) by which small changes in initial conditions can lead to large-scale and unpredictable variation in the future state of the system.” A jargon-free explanation appeared nine years later when meteorologist Philip Merilees inquired “Does the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas?” upon Lorenz’s failure to provide a title for a talk at the American Association for the Advancement of Science. No matter the complexity, the titular insect has featured in numerous discussions about the world at large, but it could soon have to share the limelight, as University of Tokyo researchers last month, determining that the findings could enhance the development of many devices, including umbrellas.
The Institute of industrial Science team used transparent resin to see beneath the outer spotty forewings of the beetles, an endeavor that has given the members, notably assistant professor Kazuya Saito, clear comprehension of their folding mechanisms. Given that a ladybug can extend its wings thanks to stored energy located in veins along the appendages’ surface, the investigators, who documented their unprecedented findings in “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,” believe their work could benefit the construction of high-tech goodies such as microscopic medical instruments, robotics and satellite antennas and standard rain blockers.
“My main research purpose is to develop new space deployable structures such as solar array paddles and antenna reflectors, so I’m interested in all insects which have foldable wings,” Saito revealed to Gizmodo. “Compared with other beetles ladybugs are very good at flying and frequently take off. I thought their wing transformation systems are excellent and have large potential for engineering.”
His unit’s efforts determined that ladybugs’ wings have bending points that call on a mechanism similar to what a curved tape measure uses to fold. The extenders, according to Saito, “confer high stiffness and strength in an unfolded shape, which can tolerate high frequency wing flapping.” The Japan-based scientist and his contemporaries observed the ladybugs by surgically removing their elytra, or outer shells, and gluing on silicone shells to study the wings’ underlying flapping mechanism. Serving as the lead author of the experiment’s accompanying text, Saito stated, “The ladybugs’ technique for achieving complex folding is quite fascinating and novel, particularly for researchers in the fields of robotics, mechanics, aerospace and mechanical engineering.”
While those areas will certainly enable him and his global peers to geek out, the not-so-scientifically inclined among us will definitely appreciate the further expected application of the laboratory legwork—stronger umbrellas.
“I believe that beetle wing folding has the potential to change the umbrella design that has basically [gone] unchanged for more than 1,000 years,” Saito said, adding that seemless flexible frames would make the gadgets, whose standard versions often fracture at the joints, “indestructible even in strong wind, and able to be deployed very quickly by using stored elastic energy.”
Summer will soon be here, and, for many of us, including we folks in Philadelphia, that will mean dealing with many rainy days. While the Tokyo team’s research will not immediately benefit us, we can already imagine the time when ravaging storms will not cause end-users to discard ruined umbrellas. Along with becoming standouts within the scientific community, Saito et al might just have soared to the top of the list of those who feel ladybugs bear good luck.