Physiology

Four Wings Are Better Than Two

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Science  14 Nov 2008:
Vol. 322, Issue 5904, pp. 1026
DOI: 10.1126/science.322.5904.1026d

The hindwings of butterflies and moths are necessary for agility, but not for flight itself. In experiments in which the hindwings of cabbage butterflies and gypsy moths were removed, Jantzen and Eisner found that the forewings were sufficient for these lepidopterans to remain airborne, despite the fact that they constitute only half the total wing area. However, video recordings showed that removal of the hindwing, which is mechanically coupled to the forewing, resulted in substantial deficits in several measures of flight performance, such as linear and turning acceleration. Hence, the hindwing may have evolved as an adaptation for rapid maneuverability in the face of pursuit by predators, chiefly bats and birds. — AMS

Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 105, 16636 (2008).

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