Dragonflies are acrobats of the sky. They can fly upside down, turn 360° on a dime, and fly more than 55 kilometers per hour. They can even fly backward with as much skill as they fly forward. Now, researchers have figured out how they execute this tricky talent.
Scientists captured more than 40 dragonflies in the wild and placed dots on their wings to record their movements. They then let the insects go in the lab and recorded them with high-speed cameras.
When the scientists analyzed the videos, they discovered that dragonflies angle their bodies upward, like a helicopter, when they fly backward. They use their wings to pull back with the same amount of force they use to propel themselves forward. Flying backward is surprisingly aerodynamic for the insects, which don’t use any more energy than when they fly forward, the team reported last week in the Journal of The Royal Society Interface.
The findings suggest that dragonflies are capable of flying backward for an extended amount of time. They are also capable of taking off from different resting positions, which comes in handy when there is an obstacle—or predator—in front of them. The work may also help engineers design more dexterous aerial robots—even ones that, yes, can fly backward.