The Biomechanics and Evolutionary Origins of Flight in Animals

The Biomechanics and Evolutionary Origins of Flight in Animals

Soft Condensed Matter & Physics of Living Systems


November 16, 2018 - 11:00am to 12:00pm


Pettit Building


102 A & B


University of California, Berkeley


What is the use of half a wing? More generally, how do novel structures and behaviors evolve? Controlled aerial behaviors in ant workers and other insects of the tropical rain forest canopy demonstrate directed gliding in the complete absence of wings. Importantly, tree-dwelling bristletails (the sister group to the winged insects) also exhibit aerial righting responses and directed gliding while falling. Ontogenetic, biomechanical, paleontological, and phylogenetic analyses suggest that controlled aerial behaviors preceded the origin of wings in vertebrates as well, indicating functional aerodynamics for only partially feathered structures and for rudimentary flapping kinematics.

Use of a robotic Archaeopteryx similarly demonstrates biomechanical functionality of the intermediate winged condition, consistent with arboreal and gravitationally assisted origins of flight in all volant taxa.  I will also present in this talk recent work on aerial maneuverability in hummingbirds, describing a variety of experimental perturbations to elicit extreme examples of flight control (e.g., flight through apertures, in heavy rain, in high turbulence, and at high elevations).