Beneath a ladybug’s red shell, the spotted elytra that it’s known for, the beetle’s hind wings are efficiently folded until it wants to take off and fly. When it lands, the wings simply fold back up into a protected package. From The New York Times:

A ladybug’s hind wings are sturdy enough to keep it in the air for up to two hours and enable it to reach speeds up to 37 miles an hour and altitudes as high as three vertically stacked Empire State Buildings. Yet they fold away with ease.

To better understand this combination of strengths, scientists in Japan, led by University of Tokyo aerospace engineer Kazuya Saito, replaced one ladybug elytron with a transparent plastic case, as seen above in this video from Scientific American:

They tracked how the wing bent in upon itself like a Z and documented the 3D shape with X-rays. Thick veins work like tape springs. They store energy for quick deployment and stiffen to provide stability for flight. But bend like a hinge for compact storage.

The team believes the wing research might help inform innovative design and engineering solutions in aerospace, medicine, and other fields. File under: biomimicry.

Next: This mini self-folding origami robot that dissolves, this larger one that doesn’t, and this slow motion footage of flying ladybugs.

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