The NY Times today had an article entitled Wingless Gliders May Reveal the Origins of Insect Flight. I usually peruse these types of articles just to find out what’s going on that is newsworthy.
I think the author (Elizabeth Svoboda) had a lot of fun writing this. To summarize, Dr. Stephen Yanoviak of the University of Florida, Dr. Robert Dudley of the University of California, and Dr. Michael Kaspari of the University of Florida have been studying the gliding (flight) characteristics of a wingless ant in hopes of demonstrating what pressures drove wingless insects to evolve into winged ones.
Here are some of the quotes from the article:
When Stephen Yanoviak visited the jungles of Panama in 1998 to study how ants forage, he found himself with some unexpected downtime. “Out of boredom, I started flicking some ants off of a tree,” he said.
The scientists’ hunch that the ants’ movements, not their body shapes, chiefly dictated their gliding paths was confirmed when they started chopping off appendages to see if the insects could still soar.
The ants showed remarkable resilience. They coasted to controlled landings after multiple leg amputations and even after removal of their abdomens, which ordinarily comprise 30 percent of their body weight. When the researchers covered the insects’ eyes with dots of white nail polish, however, they sank to the forest floor like stones.
It really sounds like these guys had fun doing this research!
The results will be published in the Journal of Experimental Biology.