What Makes Insect Wings So Fragile Yet Tough?

Insect wings, whether belonging to a butterfly, mosquito or a dragonfly, appear to be composed of seemingly fragile material that could tear easily. Although insect wings are rather easy to puncture, researchers from Trinity College in Dublin found that insect wings are nevertheless quite durable.

Researchers used the wings of the almost constantly airborne desert locust as a model to test the durability of insect wings. Like all insect body parts, an insect’s wings are made of cuticle, which is one of the most common naturally occurring materials known to man. Naturally, the researchers expected the insect wings to be just as strong as the legs of an insect since the two body parts are composed of the same material. However, researchers noticed that the membrane of the insect wings were relatively fragile and cracked quickly upon applied stress.

It turns out that the veins located on insect wings function by keeping tears from becoming larger. Therefore, it is the veins found on insect wings that are responsible for the wings toughness. The researchers believe that the specific vein design found on insect wings could be replicated to create artificial wings that could propel micro-air-vehicles, and other tiny drones.

Could the veins that are located on insect wings serve another function besides preventing devastating wing damage?

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