Ladybugs fold their wings like origami masters

Slow-motion video reveals the complex movements

ladybug with clear wing case

WINGING IT  Ladybugs fold up their wings when they land. To view that process, scientists replaced part of a ladybug’s red-and-black wing case with a transparent resin.

Kazuya Saito 2017

View the video

Those who struggle to fit a vacation wardrobe into a carry-on might learn from ladybugs. The flying beetles neatly fold up their wings when they land, stashing the delicate appendages underneath their protective red and black forewings.

To learn how one species of ladybug (Coccinella septempunctata) achieves such efficient packing, scientists needed to see under the bug’s spotted exterior. So a team from Japan replaced part of a ladybug’s forewing with a transparent bit of resin, to get a first-of-its-kind glimpse of the folding.

Slow-motion video of the altered ladybug showed that the insect makes a complex, origami-like series of folds to stash its wings, the scientists report in the May 30 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. CT scans helped explain how the wings can be both strong enough to hold the insects aloft and easily foldable into a tiny package. The shape of the wing veins allows them to flex like a metal tape measure, making the wings stiff but bendable. Lessons learned from the wings could be applied to new technologies, including foldable aircraft wings or solar panels that unfurl from a spacecraft.

FOLD ‘EM Ladybird beetles, or ladybugs, are experts at packing a lot into their trunk. See how it’s done. Production: H. Thompson; Video: K. Saito et al; Music: Podington Bear (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Emily Conover

Physics writer Emily Conover has a Ph.D. in physics from the University of Chicago. She is a two-time winner of the D.C. Science Writers’ Association Newsbrief award.

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