Cyborg beetles reveal secrets of insect flight

cyborg beetle

A giant flower beetle sports an eletronic backpack containing a radio sensor that allows researchers to remotely control its flight.

Tat Thang Vo Doan & Hirotaka Sato, NTU Singapore

What better way to track beetle flight mechanics than by flying real, live beetles? To learn about the roles that different insect muscles play in free flight, researchers turned giant flower beetles (Mecynorrhina torquata) into cyborgs. They outline their methods March 16 in Current Biology.

The team outfitted the beetles with tiny wireless sensors that record and send messages to specific muscles via radio waves. The scientists fired different muscles as the remote-controlled beetles navigated wider or tighter turns. They found that a muscle that folds wings also seems to be essential in right-left steering. The work confirms previous anatomical and tethered beetle studies, but the radio sensors could prove particularly useful in future analyses of insect flight.

Helen Thompson is the multimedia editor. She has undergraduate degrees in biology and English from Trinity University and a master’s degree in science writing from Johns Hopkins University.

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