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Watch: Microscopic beetle bends the rules of flight

Small but mighty.

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Farisenkov et al. Nature (2022)

The featherwing beetle Paratuposa placentis is hard to see without a microscope.

The little bug only gets up to a millimeter in size, and for a while researchers weren’t sure if the species was capable of flight.

Farisenkov et al. Nature (2022)

Not only can it fly, but it does so faster than expected.

The featherwing beetle is so efficient that it bends the rules of flight in the animal kingdom.

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Writing in the journal Nature on January 19, an international team of researchers mapped out the mysterious flight mechanics of P. placentis and other featherwing beetles.

Here are their flight patterns in action:

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A high-speed camera captured the flight of the featherwing beetle Acrotrichis sericans.

Sergey Farisenkov and Alexey Polilov

Watch as a featherwing beetle from the genus Mikado launches itself into the air.

Sergey Farisenkov and Alexey Polilov

Farisenkov et al. Nature (2022)

Instead of flapping its wings up and down, the beetle twists them in a figure-8 to pick up speed.

It also uses a wing-beating cycle of two power half strokes followed by two slower recovery strokes.

Wing brush

The anatomy of its wings, which look like wispy bristles, helps the bug overcome friction, and allows it to use less muscle power to move.

Kolomenskiy et al/Experiments in Fluids

Despite their size, featherwing beetles rival the flight speeds of larger bugs.

Though featherwing beetles are three times smaller than rove beetles, both bugs fly at the same pace.

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VW Pics/Universal Images Group/Getty Images

They can also accelerate twice as fast as carrion beetles, which average around 12 mm in size.

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Typically, bugs that are larger fly faster, but the featherwing beetle throws a wrench in this theory.

To the bug, it’s just another evolutionary survival strategy. Now researchers want to know if it's common in the beetle world.

“If this flight style is common for miniature beetles, it may largely explain their worldwide abundance.”

Farisenkov et al, study authors

Farisenkov et al. Nature (2022)