To manoeuvre in air flying animals produce asymmetric flapping between contralateral wings. Unlike the adjustable vertebrate wings, insect wings lack intrinsic musculature, preventing active control over wing shape during flight. However, the wings elastically deform as a result of aerodynamic and inertial forces generated by the flapping motions. How these elastic deformations vary with flapping kinematics and flight performance in free-flying insects is poorly understood. Using high-speed videography, we measured how contralateral wings elastically deform during free-flight manoeuvring in rose chafer beetles (Protaetia cuprea). We found that asymmetric flapping during aerial turns was associated with contralateral differences in chord-wise wing deformations. The highest instantaneous difference in deformation occurred during stroke reversals, resulting from differences in wing rotation timing. Elastic deformation asymmetry was also evident during mid-strokes, where wing compliance increased the angle-of-attack of both wings, but reduced the asymmetry in the angle-of-attack between contralateral wings. A biomechanical model revealed that wing compliance can increase the torques generated by each wing, providing higher potential for manoeuvrability, while concomitantly contributing to flight stability by attenuating steering asymmetry. Such stability may be adaptive for insects such as flower chafers that need to perform delicate low-speed landing manoeuvres among vegetation.
© 2020. Published by The Company of Biologists Ltd.