The mechanisms of lift enhancement in insect flight

Naturwissenschaften. 2004 Mar;91(3):101-22. doi: 10.1007/s00114-004-0502-3. Epub 2004 Mar 4.


Recent studies have revealed a diverse array of fluid dynamic phenomena that enhance lift production during flapping insect flight. Physical and analytical models of oscillating wings have demonstrated that a prominent vortex attached to the wing's leading edge augments lift production throughout the translational parts of the stroke cycle, whereas aerodynamic circulation due to wing rotation, and possibly momentum transfer due to a recovery of wake energy, may increase lift at the end of each half stroke. Compared to the predictions derived from conventional steady-state aerodynamic theory, these unsteady aerodynamic mechanisms may account for the majority of total lift produced by a flying insect. In addition to contributing to the lift required to keep the insect aloft, manipulation of the translational and rotational aerodynamic mechanisms may provide a potent means by which a flying animal can modulate direction and magnitude of flight forces for manoeuvring flight control and steering behaviour. The attainment of flight, including the ability to control aerodynamic forces by the neuromuscular system, is a classic paradigm of the remarkable adaptability that flying insects have for utilising the principles of unsteady fluid dynamics. Applying these principles to biology broadens our understanding of how the diverse patterns of wing motion displayed by the different insect species have been developed throughout their long evolutionary history.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Flight, Animal / physiology*
  • Insecta / physiology*
  • Models, Biological
  • Wings, Animal / anatomy & histology
  • Wings, Animal / physiology*