Photo: Wikipedia, CC
What Can We Learn From The Highways in the Sky
Science recently published a study titled "Flight Orientation Behaviors Promote Optimal Migration Trajectories in High-Flying Insects". It's about how migrating insects have evolved to take advantage very efficiently of high speed winds (while you're stuck in traffic, butterflies whiz by at up to 60 MPH, possibly more) to travel hundreds of miles in relatively short periods of time, all that while correcting for crosswinds taking them off-course, and expanding as little energy as possible. This made me wonder, in the spirit of biomimicry, what can we learn from that?
Securing Food Supplies
The first reason why we should learn to better understand and predict the migration pattern of insects, as well as the winds that they use to travel, is because there's a high likelihood that climate change will mess with migration patterns and schedules, and not always in good ways.
The study says: "Climate change is likely to significantly alter the frequency of insect migrants, including introducing some agricultural pests that are completely new to the UK. Thus, a better understanding of their migration strategies is increasingly crucial in helping to secure food supplies in the long term." Invasive species could be a problem too.
The better we can predict problems before they arise, the better off we'll be (at least that's the theory). There might not always be a lot we can do, but it's better to have some advance warning and understand what's going on than to be taken totally off guard.
Photo: Flickr, CC
More Efficient Air Travel?
Another potential benefit of better understanding how insects have evolved to use high speed winds is that it could maybe teach us how to better do the same.
Air companies are already trying to take advantage of tail winds whenever possible, but it's probable that we could still learn a lot from nature. For example, The Economist recently published a piece about flying planes in "V" formation like ducks ( (cargo at first, maybe passenger later) - the planes would of course be more widely spaced than birds).
Maybe by studying the tactics used by migrating insects we could learn how to fly more efficiently. Evolution by natural selection had a very long time and lots of trials and errors to figure this, so we shouldn't re-invent the wheel. Maybe all this would require would be some new software for the auto-pilot to make a few course and altitude corrections.
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