Muscle efficiency and elastic storage in the flight motor of Drosophila

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Science  07 Apr 1995:
Vol. 268, Issue 5207, pp. 87-90
DOI: 10.1126/science.7701346


Insects could minimize the high energetic costs of flight in two ways: by employing high-efficiency muscles and by using elastic elements within the thorax to recover energy expended accelerating the wings. However, because muscle efficiency and elastic storage have proven difficult variables to measure, it is not known which of these strategies is actually used. By comparison of mechanical power measurements based on gas exchange with simultaneously measured flight kinematics in Drosophila, a method was developed for determining both the mechanical efficiency and the minimum degree of elastic storage within the flight motor. Muscle efficiency values of 10 percent suggest that insects may minimize energy use in flight by employing an elastic flight motor rather than by using extraordinarily efficient muscles. Further, because of the trade-off between inertial and aerodynamic power throughout the wing stroke, an elastic storage capacity as low as 10 percent may be enough to minimize the energetic costs of flight.