Bristles reduce the force required to 'fling' wings apart in the smallest insects

Shannon K. Jones, Young J.J. Yun, Tyson L. Hedrick, Boyce E. Griffith, Laura A. Miller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Scopus citations


The smallest flying insects commonly possess wings with long bristles. Little quantitative information is available on the morphology of these bristles, and their functional importance remains a mystery. In this study, we (1) collected morphological data on the bristles of 23 species of Mymaridae by analyzing high-resolution photographs and (2) used the immersed boundary method to determine via numerical simulation whether bristled wings reduced the force required to fling the wings apart while still maintaining lift. The effects of Reynolds number, angle of attack, bristle spacing and wing-wing interactions were investigated. In the morphological study, we found that as the body length of Mymaridae decreases, the diameter and gap between bristles decreases and the percentage of the wing area covered by bristles increases. In the numerical study, we found that a bristled wing experiences less force than a solid wing. The decrease in force with increasing gap to diameter ratio is greater at higher angles of attack than at lower angles of attack, suggesting that bristled wings may act more like solid wings at lower angles of attack than they do at higher angles of attack. In wing-wing interactions, bristled wings significantly decrease the drag required to fling two wings apart compared with solid wings, especially at lower Reynolds numbers. These results support the idea that bristles may offer an aerodynamic benefit during clap and fling in tiny insects.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3759-3772
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number23
StatePublished - Dec 1 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Biomechanics
  • Clap and fling
  • Computational fluid dynamics
  • Immersed boundary method
  • Insect flight
  • Intermediate reynolds numbers

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Physiology
  • Aquatic Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Insect Science


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