Insects in slow motion

April 10, 2023 • 1:45 pm

I made it to O’Hare quickly, didn’t get groped or patted down, and now have three hours to kill before boarding. Here: have a video of 15 insects taking off.

The YouTube notes:

15 insect species filmed at 6,000 fps taking flight! In order of appearance:

00:00 – Carolina mantis
00:46 – mantisfly (Mantispidae)
01:13 – dusty wing (Coniopterygidae)
02:02 – weevils
03:22 – ambrosia beetle
04:31 – pleasing fungus beetle
05:00 – carrion beetle
05:57 – fire-coloured beetle
06:28 – net-winged beetle
07:00 – hover fly & tiger bee fly
08:03 – alderfly

Not all of the playback of these 6,000fps captures is at a consistent 30fps. The playback of some scenes are sped up to better fit the edit of the video. The alderfly clip at the end was captured at 3,200fps

9 thoughts on “Insects in slow motion

    1. I have a hypothesis, which is mine. Are you ready? Here is my hypothesis.
      Their feet are sticky, mainly due to van der Waals attraction of their foot pads to the substrate. So to take off as planned, they first need to un-stick their feet. But they also must maintain a minimally tippy platform from which to take off. So they become a temporary tripod.
      That concludes my hypothesis.

  1. I have a hypothesis. Which is mine. Are you ready? Here is my hypothesis.
    Insects have sticky feet, mainly bc of van der Waals forces between their foot pads and the substrate. So to take off as planned, they need to first un-stick themselves as much as possible. But they also need to have a minimally tippy platform to take off from. So they temporarily become a tripod.
    That concludes my hypothesis.

    1. I didn’t think of that, but it does seem plausible. My first thought was that it was a counterbalance thing to smooth out the takeoff. Similar to how halteres (I think that’s the feature I’m thinking of) are thought to be used to counterbalance wing motion during flight. Your hypothesis seems more likely.

      1. Yes, the halteres are the drum-stick like appendages which are derived from what was the second pair of wings in the ancestors of flies and which are very nicely visible in the film of the hoverfly (syrphid) taking off near the end of the clip. They act as a kind of gyroscope and provide sensory information that helps the fly to orientate and balance itself inflight.

    2. I know this is a bit late, but here is the background to my hypothesis. Many years ago in my biology classes I would saddle a locust with a piece of wire, attached to a piece of string. Lifting the animal off one’s finger would set the wings going. Lower it onto the finger, and the wings would stop flapping. Clearly the there was a flight-regulating sensor in the ‘feet’. Normally a locust would use its hind legs to lift off the ground to set the wings in motion. My hypothesis then, is that these insects have have a flight controlling sensor in one of their ‘feet’, likely the one they lift off the ground prior to take-off. These insects, cannot jump off the ground as do locusts, so lift a ‘foot’ off the ground to trigger the wings flying mode. Using just one ‘foot’ for this leaves the other to hold the anterior up to assist take-off, ie positioning the fore-wings at a better angle for lift.

  2. To paraphrase French New Wave filmmaker (and Cahiers du Cinéma film critic) J-L Godard, insect cinema is truth at 6,000 frames per second.

    And speaking of Godard, our host will no doubt soon be retracing some of the steps along Parisian roadways taken by “Patricia” (Mlle. Seberg) and “Michel” (M. Belmondo) in À bout de souffle.

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