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How aphids fly: take off, free flight and implications for short and long distance migration

Bell, James R.; Shephard, Graham


Graham Shephard


An introduction to high‐speed photography and its entomological impact is provided, emphasizing the importance of high frame rates and high resolution. The take‐off and free flight of Drepanosiphum platanoidis and Myzus persicae were studied in still air using high‐speed photography in HD. The wing tip and body posture were tracked to show how they are displaced during each wingbeat cycle. The important structural elements of the wing are described. The wingbeat is driven by a reinforced leading edge, the pterostigma and costa. The remainder of the coupled fore‐ and hindwing acts as a single aerofoil that deforms during flight, due to sparse venation and a lack of cross veins. During flight, aphids use a ‘near clap and fling’ mechanism with a body pitch close to 90°. Rapid acceleration about the thoracic lateral axis into wing reversal generates enough lift for take‐off, typically within the first or second wingbeat. Unique footage shows that aphids demonstrate a high degree of flight control and manoeuvrability in the lab, occasionally using forward and inverted flight, two flight modes that are otherwise poorly known. While research into the impact of turbulent convection is needed, we posit that the strength of atmospheric forces presents a formidable challenge to aphid migrants. Above the flight boundary layer, migrating aphids may not easily oppose upwardly moving air, although if used, ‘frozen flight’ may cause them to descend on average. We evaluate five devices for insect flight research.


Bell, J. R., & Shephard, G. (in press). How aphids fly: take off, free flight and implications for short and long distance migration. Agricultural and forest entomology, 1-10.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Mar 13, 2024
Online Publication Date Apr 18, 2024
Deposit Date Apr 22, 2024
Publicly Available Date Apr 22, 2024
Journal Agricultural and Forest Entomology
Print ISSN 1461-9555
Electronic ISSN 1461-9563
Publisher Wiley
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Pages 1-10
Keywords body pitch, wingbeat, high‐speed photography, Myzus persicae, forward flight, clap and fling, Phantom T4040, Drepanosiphum platanoidis, frozen flight, inverted flight
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