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Manipulations by migration, mating, & munching

Eleanor Konik
Written by Eleanor Konik

I write stories & articles inspired by all eras of history & science... so I wind up putting notetaking software like Obsidian & Readwise thru their paces.

2 min read.
pink bird with wings spread
I'm still working on that novelette (novella? who knows, anymore) featuring a winged species of sentient, lactating egglayers. The story involves at least one aerial battle, which means I needed to know a lot more about how wing designs impact speed and manoeuvrability. Plus, I was curious how plausible a flying humanoid would be.

Quick Facts

Wing Shape

Bats hawking high-flying insects have small, pointed wings, which make them fast and agile. Bats that hunt for insects hiding in vegetation have short, broad wings with round wingtips, which offers good maneuverability when moving slowly. Bats that fish over open stretches of water have very long wings and with rounded tips for control and stability in flight.

Migration Matters

Migratory dragonflies tend to have a lobe about 1/4 from the bases of their wings; their wings are usually narrower on the outer half, with a frontal tip that points more inward. Some dragonfly males guard their mates from competition by either holding on to them (tandem) or flying around nearby (noncontact). Noncontact guarding requires the males to do a lot of fancy flying, so you'd think this would impact how their wing shapes evolved, but it turns out the differences aren't statistically significant.

Forager Fitness

Insect wings get damaged when they fly. It can happen due to how often or how long they fly — and how often they run into obstacles. Since insects tend to die when their wings get worn out, how often they hit obstructions has a pretty big impact on their lifespan. Bumblebees that forage for food (instead of working inside the colony or guarding it) tend to show more wing wear, which means they die earlier.

Tiny Turbines

Mosquitoes are weird; their wing sweep is half the angle of other "shallow" fliers like honeybees. Instead of directly creating "lift" with their wings, mosquitoes basically create little vortexes and ride the tornados to get off the ground. Once airborne, they rotate their wings in some pretty odd ways to keep creating little vortexes. Scientists still aren't sure why they evolved this energy-intensive method, but I personally can't get superheroes like Red Tornado out of my head when I think about it.

📗 If you found this interesting, you may also enjoy the thermoregulation edition, which involved research for this same storyline and is all about attaining comfort via sweaty feet, poopy legs, & deep dirt.

💚 If you learned something from this overview, consider forwarding it to a friend and encouraging them to sign up for more overviews of my research into obscure history and science.

🦇 Do you know anything cool about wings? This is an unusually well-researched area by my usual standards, so I'd love to hear what I missed, either via email or in a comment where other readers can see.

Note: There are a couple of affiliate links & codes scattered around, but these always come from links I was already recommending and usually I share them because they benefit you too (i.e. getting you extra time on trials).

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