This Summer, I have been watching insects in the garden.
In particular, I have been looking at the way they fly, and considering the factors which may help determine how they accomplish this, given that for so long, creatures of this size such as bees have presented a bit of a conundrum to biologists in as far the aerodynamic profile appears to defy what we think we know about the physical laws governing flight...
...In short, bees should not be able to fly, given their body shape.
But pondering this has led me to conclude that there may be more going on here than is immediately apparent, and as I will suggest, could have implications for practical applications which could be greatly beneficial for people where a proximity to these insects can be significant threat or benefit to health and well being... especially in the poorer parts of the world.
The psycho-physiology of insects
Recent studies of common house flies have shown that their wings are directly attached to their brains, which allows the most immediate pathway from the sense information derived from the wings, to the decision making centres of the brain, and in turn produce an appropriate and lightning fast response to compensate and adjust to what this information tells them about the environment through which they are flying...and so that the decision to fly this way or that is largely determined by these environmental factors.
Although the general direction of the fly may be determined by other sense information inspired by their basic instinctual needs- the need to find food, to mate, flee danger, cued by the senses which inform them of where these needs are most likely to be met. But along the way, and within that general direction, the erratic flight pattern can appear to a human observer to be random and chaotic.
So what are the factors which the fly responds to that determine this flight pattern, and make it choose through the sense information derived through the wings to fly this way or that?
...the wings therefore, being the decision makers as well as the means of flight.
Well, as the air is the medium which has determined the defined the evolutionary biology of the fly, or other insect capable of flight, it here we must seek those factors.
Air pressure, thermal currents, heat exchanges are the things which I believe dictate this flight pattern most directly... and most pertinently, the differences between these factors, and where they meet...
...A path of least resistance.
Like the pattern of a lightning strike, the insect is built, and programmed to respond physically to seek this path of least resistance to it's destination, even if it is geographically the longest route there, for reasons of biological efficiency- minimising the work required to make it's way, and therefore the energy used to discover more food fuel, or accomplish it's physiological aims.
To fly into a higher pressure zone of air, however slightly more, needs an increase in work rate of the wings, and the corresponding amount of energy burned to do so. This work may require ten times the energy to move from point A to point B in a straight line, than to go round this air, though it may be ten times the distance if measured.
And so, over the lifetime of the insect, these cumulative biological decisions and slight gains in energy preservation they cause presents the apparent erratic behaviour of the insect as actually, the ultimate in energy efficiency.
Remember, if you only weigh a few milligrams, like an insect, a slight breeze is an insurmountable hurricane, or a solid wall of air which will take you to, what to your size, would be as many miles off course.
Observe the general areas you find small insects... within only a few feet of the ground or water, and not at high altitudes, in general close proximity to objects and plants in gardens and fields where these effects are minimal.
Indeed if we could see the air, and it's variations in density and pressure sensitive to the smallest degree of change, I'm sure that you would discover, when you were to see an insect negotiate it;s way through the air, a rational association between the creature's flight and it's environment.
The Aerodynamics of Bees
And so, returning to the bee, in particular, which ought not be able to fly, being a rather rotund shape, with proportionately small wings, I tried to think of some explanation, and realised that maybe I have already proposed the answer in another idea I have posted, and applying it here in an inversion of the usual process of being inspired to form a practical application in technology by observing nature's solutions, by taking the basis of my idea entitled “Air Blade”, whereby the aerodynamic profile of the subject in question is not actually contained within the physical structure of that subject... in the case of my idea, that rather than moulding body panels of a car to a particular aerodynamic shape in order to accomplish a desired aerodynamic performance, a process, or facility is incorporated within the car to supply this function, by moulding, or “sculpting” the air around the car to form a pressurised air bubble of a given shape.
Effectively, “outsourcing” a function by another means.
This may not be as far fetched as it sounds, as I offer proofs that nature already does this in other biologies... even our own.
A cow, for instance, has four stomachs, and can only eat grass... this being the only method it can convert the simplest and most readily available matter into energy, but taking these four stomachs to adequately digest the necessary nutrients. And this being so, it must have it's entire body devoted to this task, and almost all of it's time.
But it is understood now, that part of the reason we have descended from the trees, and grew brains that enabled us to think, is that we got round this by biologically outsourcing the digestive (and conversion to energy) function outside our bodies through cooking food, freeing time for other tasks which promoted more cerebral development and so on.
And in fact, we, like some other creatures, may outsource some functions which would have hindered our progress to entirely different species of creatures. The great distances over which we have been able to settle, and the speed of human progress is unimaginable without the humble horse, and scientists also believe our relationship with dogs was even more essential in our hunter gatherer stage of development, our two species story of survival success inseparable from each other.
So the common bee may well do just such a thing as this, by observing the particular way they use their wings, we may see that they agitate the air around them to create this aerodynamic bubble or shape for flight, prior to providing the lift to initiate flight, and once moving forward, this bubble itself providing an effectively larger surface area to generate more lift than the bee's body alone can do... it then only has to direct it's energy backward to produce thrust.
But let me go one stage further, and suggest that flowers themselves assist the bees and other insects in this self same way (although passively of course, being static), in order to aid the pollination process, and of benefit to both through this symbiosis of life.
If we observe the shapes of flowers, and analyse them in terms of an aerodynamic profile, I think that it may well be found that these conical shapes create depressions in the air immediately in front of them which almost “suck” the insect toward them, as they fly near to the flowers, guiding them in to land, and providing a momentary shield for them while they collect the pollen from breezes and gusts of wind.
And if this were to be found to be so, it could revolutionise our ability to manage the health of gardens, farms, and other wild areas by allowing us to make more favourable energy efficient landscapes and environments for the insects when we consider where and what plants to place where, reducing energy expenditure for the insects, thereby increasing success in pollination and reproduction for the bees themselves.
Planting your garden according to it's aerodynamic profile, as well as what it looks like.
Mosquitoes, Malaria, and Statistics
Considering all that I have suggested above (and assuming it's not all a load of rubbish!), it would seem to me possible on this basis, to manipulate our own environments, to exclude undesirable insect encounters in the home, as well as encouraging them in the garden or wild areas.
Most all of us will have had those apparently stupid flies whizzing about the house or home environment in crazy patterns, evidently immune to all attempts by us to guide them out the door or window, even though these apertures are areas hundreds of times larger than themselves, and more than an adequately huge target for even the dumbest creature to get through... but they crash into the door or window frame, hit the floor, the ceiling, the closed side of the window, everything but go through the hole you want them to exit by!
But if we apply what I have postulated above, there may be a good reason why they can't get out, and it may be the same reason why they get in so frequently in the first place...
...differentials in air pressures between the moving warmer air outside and the cooler static air inside, which causes air to flow in to the house through open doors and windows, and sucking insects in like they have fallen into an irresistible whirl pool of moving air and thermal currents, and which also prevents escape, as they are not strong enough to fly upstream into and through the inrushing air at such times.
And here we can see that if this effect could be countered, we could lower the statistical probability of an insect being in the house, and in turn, reducing the instances when they come into contact with humans at these times, to which they pass diseases such as Malaria.
This could in turn reduce the overall instance of disease, associated deaths, and the need for expensive medications.
One suggestion I should like to put forward in this case would be to have a kind of insect airlock.
This would not have to be a sealed door or window to protect from insects, but simply a mechanism by which the difference between inside and outside air pressure and temperatures are reduced, creating intermediate stages like porches, or like a hot blower by the door to make it harder to get in in the first place, or a glass or perspex tube above the door which is heated by the sun ( south facing doors in this case), making it hotter than both inside and outside,creating a thermal current drawing cool air from inside the house as well as outside up to the top of the door into the tube, and out the open ends to the outside, giving the insect a thrilling flume ride as it approaches the door is sucked up into the tube with the current, and thrown out the end!