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Extension > Yard and Garden News > Butterflies in slow motion flight

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Butterflies in slow motion flight

Karl Foord, Extension Educator - Horticulture

I recently took a class on bee identification at the Southwest Research Station of the Museum of Natural History in the Chiricahua Mountains three hours west of Tucson, Arizona.
While traveling to one of the bee collection sites we passed a large puddle along the road. Two days previously a heavy downpour had soaked the countryside and this puddle downstream from an open cattle range provided the butterflies with water, sodium, and perhaps other needed nutrients.

I have always wondered about the flight of butterflies. Their flight often seems quite erratic. I understand this to be part of a strategy to avoid predators. Is their flight actually as erratic as it appears to us?

I returned to the puddle the following day and was happy to see that it was not completely dry. I was able to slow down their flight with a high speed camera capturing 3500 frames per second. If 30 frames per second is what we consider to be normal then this slows down the flight by a factor of 117.

What was seemingly erratic now seems quite graceful. Wouldn't you agree?

Notice how the wings curl to provide lift on both the forward and backward strokes of the wings. Also notice how the butterflies wing strokes are not constant and that they often drift before beginning a new stroke. Access the video at Butterflies in slow motion flight

Please enjoy the ballet.

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