Clap and fling mechanism with interacting porous wings in tiny insect flight

Arvind Santhanakrishnan, Alice K. Robinson, Shannon Jones, Audrey Ann Low, Sneha Gadi, Tyson L. Hedrick, Laura A. Miller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

59 Scopus citations


The aerodynamics of flapping flight for the smallest insects such as thrips is often characterized by a 'clap and fling' of the wings at the end of the upstroke and the beginning of the downstroke. These insects fly at Reynolds numbers (Re) of the order of 10 or less where viscous effects are significant. Although this wing motion is known to augment the lift generated during flight, the drag required to fling the wings apart at this scale is an order of magnitude larger than the corresponding force acting on a single wing. As the opposing forces acting normal to each wing nearly cancel during the fling, these large forces do not have a clear aerodynamic benefit. If flight efficiency is defined as the ratio of lift to drag, the clap and fling motion dramatically reduces efficiency relative to the case of wings that do not aerodynamically interact. In this paper, the effect of a bristled wing characteristic of many of these insects was investigated using computational fluid dynamics. We performed 2D numerical simulations using a porous version of the immersed boundary method. Given the computational complexity involved in modeling flow through exact descriptions of bristled wings, the wing was modeled as a homogeneous porous layer as a first approximation. High-speed video recordings of free-flying thrips in takeoff flight were captured in the laboratory, and an analysis of the wing kinematics was performed. This information was used for the estimation of input parameters for the simulations. Compared with a solid wing (without bristles), the results of the study show that the porous nature of the wings contributes largely to drag reduction across the Re range explored. The aerodynamic efficiency, calculated as the ratio of lift to drag coefficients, was larger for some porosities when compared with solid wings.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3898-3909
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number21
StatePublished - Nov 1 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Bristled wing
  • Flapping flight
  • Fringed wing
  • Immersed boundary method
  • Locomotion
  • Thrips aerodynamics
  • Weis fogh mechanism
  • Wing kinematics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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