Meeting Abstract

64.3  Saturday, Jan. 5  When wings collide: how collisions cause wing wear in bees and wasps MOUNTCASTLE, AM*; COMBES, SA; Harvard University

Many flying insects suffer periodic wing damage and exhibit a cumulative loss of wing area over their lifespan. Wing area loss reduces aerodynamic force production, load carrying capacity and flight maneuverability, and thus can have important fitness consequences for an individual and colony. In bumblebees, loss of wing area is associated with an increased rate of mortality, and wing wear has been linked to frequency of wing collisions with vegetation during foraging activity. However, little is known about how insect wings dynamically respond to collisions during flapping flight, the factors that contribute to wing damage during collisions, and the rate at which damage occurs. Here we explore how rapid collisions with a rigid surface cause wing damage in bees and wasps. Using a high-speed motor, we spin wings at their natural flapping velocity and force them to repeatedly collide with a surface obstacle in their path. We investigate how wings dynamically bend during collisions, and quantify wing wear over time. Our results show that rapid collisions can eventually cause significant wing damage, although wing morphology may reflect adaptive mechanisms that help reduce the damaging affects of collisions.