Biological Origami: How Ladybugs Fold Their Wings Could Produce Better Umbrellas And Other Designs

With the help of high-speed cameras and a little tweak in the ladybug’s spotted wing cases, scientists have finally discovered the mystery of how ladybugs fold their hind wings. The ladybug’s natural design may help our own engineering designs in the future.

Ladybug Wings Mystery

Unlike other beetles, ladybugs are actually quite agile flyers that can quickly shift from walking to flying in a heartbeat. Though we marvel at the more approachable bug of the insect world, the matter of how they fold and unfold their wings remains a mystery to scientists. The spotted bugs close the small spotted wing cases (elytra) before they completely fold their large wings, hence keeping their origami-like folding secrets from watching eyes.

A new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences details just how its authors found a way to finally reveal how ladybugs fold their wings so tightly and neatly inside a much smaller case.

The researchers originally opted to merely use high-speed cameras in hopes of capturing the ladybugs in action, but because of the opaque spotted wing cases, they still could only see the outer part of the large hind wings as they are slowly being folded inside.

3D printing an artificial wing could not provide them with the transparency that they were hoping for so what they did to remedy this problem was to replace the spotted opaque wings with a transparent wing made from clear nail-art resin.

Natural Engineering Feat

What researchers found out as they observed the ladybugs flawlessly fold the large wings is that ladybugs use a combination of the edge of the elytra plus abdominal movements in order to fold the wings neatly.

Quite unlike other transformable structures in the natural world that require joints and moving parts, ladybugs have the ability to fold their wings simply through flexibility and elasticity.

A CT scan of the ladybugs’ wings revealed that this capability is possible thanks to the wings’ natural design that involves thick and springy veins, allowing the wings to be stored up so tightly, and at the same time support the bugs’ wings in flight. For researchers, this shows an incredible design — an unusual combination of deformability and strength.

Implications

From an engineering standpoint, the origami-like method of ladybugs’ wing-folding shows how the combination of deformability and strength, though difficult to achieve, can be successfully done.

It’s not the first time that technology took a note from nature’s books, and this time, this discovery can aid in the advancement of the creation of deployable structures like the wings of carrier aircrafts, satellite antenna reflectors, or for the development of a stronger, more flexible umbrella.

Perhaps engineers can yet again develop a new way of designing technologies based on the ladybug’s newly discovered abilities. Quite unlike many of the things we have today, such as the common umbrella which has joints that allow them to bend and fold, this discovery gives engineers and researchers a whole new point of view when it comes to creating something that requires both flexibility and strength without having the need to use joints or moving parts.

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