Swimming led to flying, physicists say

Like a fish paddles its pectoral fins to swim through water, flying insects use the same physics laws to “paddle” through the air, say Cornell physicists.

Using high-speed videography and a precision algorithm for 3-D motion tracking, Cornell researchers have demonstrated that swimmers and flyers share similar force generation methods to propel themselves through water or air. This finding goes against conventional theories that the “paddling” motion common to swimmers, which use drag forces to propel forward, only occurs in water.

Fruit flies and other flyers also use drag to “swim” through the air, the scientists say. Their discovery lends support to the evolutionary theory that flight in insects emerged from swimming.

Read more here Swimming led to flying, physicists say.

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2 Responses to Swimming led to flying, physicists say

  1. alfy says:

    Oh dear. Here we go again. One might have more confidence in the research if the physicists had looked at cockroaches or dragonflies instead. Flies are relatively recently evolved insects (40 mya) and incredibly efficient fliers as we all know. By contrast, cockroaches and dragonflies have been around for more like 200 mya. They don’t seem to have changed much from their ancestors except that they are smaller. Early dragonflies had wingspans of two feet.

    Cockroaches and dragonflies don’t seem to be such good fliers, but they must be doing something right to have been around so long. I still find it a delight to watch dragonflies on the prowl for other insects.

    The other problem I have with this research, (admittedly very briefly reported even in your link) is that lots of aquatic animals swim, and many have no “paddles” at all. The main propulsive force is achieved by throwing the body into a series of muscular waves which, using Newton’s 3rd Law sends them into a sinusoidal motion. This also the case with most fish where the fins are not used for propulsion but rather for steering, like ailerons perhaps?

    It might be unkind to call the work a load of cobblers, but some radical rethinking does seem to be in order. I give it this week’s Fred Hoyle Award.

  2. Deskarati says:

    Alfy, we love all your comments, but when they start with ‘Oh dear’ we really know its going to be good one. Keep it up.

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