Wing Corrugation and Body Effects in Insect Forward Flight

Munjal Shah

Air movements around a flying bumblebee (highlighted with cyan color are highly revolving and swirling regions of air).

Air movements around a flying bumblebee. Highlighted with cyan color are highly revolving and swirling regions of air. 

Graduate Student Project


Did you know that the bumblebee found in your backyard carries a great mystery on their body? Did you know that bee wings have veins, and it does something exceptional?

I am Munjal Shah, and I am a PhD candidate in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. I am performing research in the CREST lab with Dr. Battaglia, who is my mentor. Our lab focuses on computational approaches to understand nature and energy systems. My work concentrates on investigating complexities of body shape and size of insects and how these features help them fly.

Researchers have studied bumblebees to investigate their intricate flying attributes. All bees move their wings in similar motion. But what still remains a mystery is how the bumblebee can carry large amounts of nectar and pollen? What do winged insects have in common? Well, its wing venation. They all have vein structures on their wings that control their flight. The body is interesting, too, but researchers don't include the body when they examine insects computationally. So, the question is, do vein structures and body shape help bumblebees carrying large loads?


Winged insects exhibit unique flying and loading capacities, and their ability to escape predators can be implemented in micro-air-vehicles. Interestingly, bumblebees carry 70-80% of its body weight in the form of nectar or pollen and perform complex maneuvers. Mechanical simplicity and high flap-frequency contribute to aerodynamic agility of bees. Computational research often models the wings without a body, or assumes smooth surfaces instead of the complicated venation. Bumblebee wings have marginal and submarginal cells that create irregular corrugated patterns; however, the significance on aerodynamics is still unknown.  A morphologically accurate bee scan obtained from micro-computed tomography was used for computational fluid dynamic simulations to predict aerodynamics. This study is the first of its kind that showed an impact of wing corrugation and body effects. Analysis of flow structures near the wing-tip and wake region predicted that corrugated wings yielded 13.6% more lift versus smooth wings, implying corrugation contributes to lift.

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