News & Events
The Evolutionary Origins and Biomechanics of Insect Flight
Release time:June 12, 2024

Topic: The Evolutionary Origins and Biomechanics of Insect Flight

Speaker: Professor Robert Dudley, University of California–Berkeley

Time: Friday, June 14, 2024, 9:00-11:00 a.m.

Venue: B402, Main Building, Shahe Campus


Flight is fundamental to insect biology and diversification, but how did it evolve? What is the use of half a wing? Controlled aerial behaviors in ant workers and other insects of the tropical rainforest 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, paleontological, and phylogenetic analyses suggest that controlled aerial behaviors preceded the origin of wings in both hexapods and vertebrates, indicating functional aerodynamics for only partial wings and for rudimentary flapping kinematics. In this talk, I will present numerous examples of controlled unsteady aerodynamics in wingless animals, consistent with arboreal and gravitationally assisted origins of flight in all flight-capable taxa. I will also discuss implications for robotic design of low-Re unsteady flight, including such features as aerial righting, landing reflexes, aerodynamics of accelerating flows, wing-body interactions, and scale effects (i.e., size and speed) in the origin of flapping flight.

About the Speaker:

Robert Dudley is a Professor in the Department of Integrative Biology at the University of California–Berkeley, and a Research Associate at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama. He received a B.S. in Zoology in 1983 from Duke University, and a Ph.D. in Zoology in 1987 from the University of Cambridge where he was a Marshall Scholar. From 1987–1992, Robert was a postdoctoral fellow with the Smithsonian Institution, residing in Panama at the Barro Colorado Island field station. Following appointments at the University of Texas–Austin from 1992–2002, he moved to Berkeley in 2003 where he has held multiple endowed chairs, and also served from 2016–2021 as Chair of the Department of Integrative Biology. Robert's research is primarily concerned with the evolution, physiology, and biomechanics of animal flight, and uses both laboratory experiments along with field measurements to characterize flight performance under natural conditions.

School of Transportation Science and Engineering