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Optimal strategies for insects migrating in the flight boundary layer: mechanisms and consequences
- Directed aerial displacement requires that a volant organism's airspeed exceeds ambient wind speed. For biologically relevant altitudes, wind speed increases exponentially with increased height above the ground. Thus, dispersal of most insects is influenced by atmospheric conditions. However, insects that fly close to the Earth's surface displace within the flight boundary layer where insect airspeeds are relatively high. Over the past 17 years, we have studied boundary-layer insects by following individuals as they migrate across the Caribbean Sea and the Panama Canal. Although most migrants evade either drought or cold, nymphalid and pierid butterflies migrate across Panama near the onset of the rainy season. Dragonflies of the genus Pantala migrate in October concurrently with frontal weather systems. Migrating the furthest and thereby being the most difficult to study, the diurnal moth Urania fulgens migrates between Central and South America. Migratory butterflies and dragonflies are capable of directed movement towards a preferred compass direction in variable winds, whereas the moths drift with winds over water. Butterflies orient using both global and local cues. Consistent with optimal migration theory, butterflies and dragonflies adjust their flight speeds in ways that maximize migratory distance traveled per unit fuel, whereas the moths do not. Moreover, only butterflies adjust their flight speed in relation to endogenous fat reserves. It is likely that these insects use optic flow to gauge their speed and drift, and thus must migrate where sufficient detail in the Earth's surface is visible to them. The abilities of butterflies and dragonflies to adjust their airspeed over water indicate sophisticated control and guidance systems pertaining to migration.
Srygley, Robert B. , Dudley, Robert
Libellulidae , Lepidoptera , Nymphalidae , Pieridae , butterflies , moths , migration behavior , insect flight , altitude , velocity , wind speed
- Includes references
- Integrative and comparative biology 2008 July, v. 48, no. 1
Journal Articles, USDA Authors, Peer-Reviewed
- Works produced by employees of the U.S. Government as part of their official duties are not copyrighted within the U.S. The content of this document is not copyrighted.