Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Migrating insects fly in the fast lane

Date:
February 8, 2010
Source:
Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council
Summary:
Scientists shed new light on the flight behaviors that enable insects to undertake long-distance migrations, and highlights the remarkable abilities of these insect migrants.

A new study sheds light on the flight behaviours that enable insects to undertake long-distance migrations, and highlights the remarkable abilities of these insect migrants.
Credit: iStockphoto/Karel Gallas

A study published in Science, by researchers at Rothamsted Research (an institute of the BBSRC), the Met Office, the Natural Resources Institute, and the Universities of Exeter, Greenwich and York, sheds new light on the flight behaviours that enable insects to undertake long-distance migrations, and highlights the remarkable abilities of these insect migrants.

Many insects avoid cold British winters by migrating south in autumn to over-wintering sites around the Mediterranean. Migrant insects then return to the UK in spring. How such small insects undertake journeys of several thousands of kilometres has long fascinated scientists.

The reported study was funded by BBSRC and used two sets of specially-designed radar equipment to observe migrating butterflies and moths flying several hundreds of metres above the ground, and to describe the sophisticated flight behaviours that they have evolved. These insect migrants have a compass sense that enables them to select winds which will take them in their chosen direction, and to travel at speeds of up to 100 km per hour. The fast speeds of winds aloft mean that insects travel more-or-less downwind, but they make subtle adjustments to their headings so that they partially correct for wind-induced drift away from their preferred direction of travel.

Dr Chapman said "Migratory butterflies and moths have evolved an amazing capacity to use favourable tailwinds. By flying at the heights where the wind currents are fastest, migratory moths can travel between their summer and winter grounds in just a few nights."

Dr Hill said "We estimate that over 2 billion insects were involved in the mass migration events that we studied. These insect migrants are clearly very successful."

The study used a computer model dubbed "NAME" to demonstrate that the flight behaviours observed result in migrants travelling nearly twice as far and closer to their preferred direction as an insect just randomly drifting downwind. Many migratory insects are pests of agricultural crops, so the model will be useful for predicting migration events in the future.

Ms Burgin said "We combined the results from the radar measurements of moth flight with the outputs of a model of atmosphere motion to show that by hitchhiking on suitable winds, insects can travel at greater speeds than many migrating birds, which is important given the short lifespan of insects."

This study illustrates how insects successfully undertake long-distance migrations in favourable directions. Climate change is likely to significantly alter the frequency of insect migrants, including introducing some agricultural pests that are completely new to the UK. Thus, a better understanding of their migration strategies is increasingly crucial in helping to secure food supplies in the long term.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Jason W. Chapman, Rebecca L. Nesbit, Laura E. Burgin, Don R. Reynolds, Alan D. Smith, Douglas R. Middleton, and Jane K. Hill. Flight Orientation Behaviors Promote Optimal Migration Trajectories in High-flying Insects. Science, 5 February 2010 DOI: 10.1126/science.1182990

Cite This Page:

Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council. "Migrating insects fly in the fast lane." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 8 February 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/02/100204144416.htm>.
Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council. (2010, February 8). Migrating insects fly in the fast lane. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 16, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/02/100204144416.htm
Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council. "Migrating insects fly in the fast lane." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/02/100204144416.htm (accessed September 16, 2014).

Share This



More Plants & Animals News

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Conservationists Face Uphill PR Battle With New Shark Rules

Conservationists Face Uphill PR Battle With New Shark Rules

Newsy (Sep. 14, 2014) New conservation measures for shark fishing face an uphill PR battle in the fight to slow shark extinction. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Shocker: Journalists Are Utterly Addicted To Coffee

Shocker: Journalists Are Utterly Addicted To Coffee

Newsy (Sep. 13, 2014) A U.K. survey found that journalists consumed the most amount of coffee, but that's only the tip of the coffee-related statistics iceberg. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Lion Cubs the Pride of San Diego Zoo

Lion Cubs the Pride of San Diego Zoo

Reuters - US Online Video (Sep. 13, 2014) Roars of excitement as a proud lioness shows off her four cubs at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Jillian Kitchener reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
'Magic Mushrooms' Could Help Smokers Quit

'Magic Mushrooms' Could Help Smokers Quit

Newsy (Sep. 11, 2014) In a small study, researchers found that the majority of long-time smokers quit after taking psilocybin pills and undergoing therapy sessions. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins