Aphids can teach aerospace engineers about flight control

Last Updated: Tue, Feb 05, 2013 09:50 hrs

Tel Aviv, Feb 5 (IANS) You may dismiss pea aphids as irritable insects, but their skills could teach aerospace engineers a thing or two about flight control, says an Israeli research.

The research shows that the insects can free fall from the plants they feed on and -- within a fraction of a second -- land on their feet every time.

Oftentimes, the falling aphids manage to cling to a lower part of the plant by their sticky feet on the way down, avoiding the dangerous ground altogether, the journal Current Biology reports.

That's despite the fact that most aphids in a colony are wingless and have no special body surfaces to turn themselves right-side up, according to a Technion statement.

Rather, high-speed video analysis shows that they hold their bodies and limbs in a special posture, which allows them to passively rotate and then stay in a back-up, feet-down position.

"Animals are capable of performing remarkable tasks to maximize their chances of survival," said Gal Ribak from the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology's aerospace engineering department.

Those acrobatic feats are a matter of life and death for the aphids, said Gish.

"Aphids that are confronted with an attacking predator are caught between the devil and the deep blue sea."

If they stay put, they may be gobbled up by predators, and if they drop to the ground, they may get lost and starve to death or fall prey to someone else, said Ribak.

It was Moshe Gish and Moshe Inbar from the University of Haifa who first noticed the behaviour.

They enlisted Ribak, bio-mechanics researcher, and aerospace engineer Daniel Weihs to investigate further.

"What puzzled us was that the aphids did not seem to do much in order to right themselves," Ribak said.

"Their body posture remained fairly constant during the entire fall."

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