Ladybugs, Awe & Design Inspiration

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After ladybugs fly, they tuck their wings into a sliver of space between their abdomen and the colorful outer wings for which they are best known. Credit Jean-Michel Labat/Science Source

Even without words this item from the Science section would tell a full story just with the gif below, which captures what any of us might remember being awed by as a kid. Thanks to Joanna Klein for this:

Ladybugs Pack Wings and Engineering Secrets in Tidy Origami Packages

The ladybug is a tiny insect with hind wings four times its size. Like an origami master, it folds them up into a neat package, tucking them away within a slender sliver of space between its abdomen and the usually polka-dotted, harder wings that protect it.

When it is time to take off, it deploys its flying apparatus from beneath its colorful shell-like top wings, called the elytra, in only a tenth of a second. And when it lands, it folds it back in just two. Switching between flying and crawling many times in a day, the ladybug travels vast distances.

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High-speed camera footage of a ladybug unfolding its wings. Saito, et al

To the naked eye, this elegant transformation is a mystery. But scientists in Japan created a window into the process in a study published Monday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Just how the ladybug manages to cram these rigid structures into tiny spaces is a valuable lesson for engineers designing deployable structures like umbrellas and satellites.

A ladybug’s hind wings are sturdy enough to keep it in the air for up to two hours and enable it to reach speeds up to 37 miles an hour and altitudes as high as three vertically stacked Empire State Buildings. Yet they fold away with ease. These seemingly contradictory attributes perplexed Kazuya Saito, an aerospace engineer at the University of Tokyo and the lead author of the study…

Read the whole story here.

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