Turns out those butterflies we watch lazily drifting along on the breeze during migration are really masters of wind current dynamics.
Jane Hill at the University of York and a number of British colleagues, using entomological radar, have confirmed that many day- and night-migrating insects actually seek out and exploit high-altitude winds that boost their migration distance and correct for cross-winds drifting. The research is published in this week’s Science magazine. [Science is available by subscription or pay-as-you-go access.]
These flight behaviors match the sophistication of those seen in migrant birds and help explain how high-flying insects migrate successfully between seasonal habitats, the paper’s abstract notes.
“Insects are so small that there was this feeling that maybe they were just being blown about by the wind, whereas our study shows that’s not the case,” Hill told Discovery News. “They go with the wind, but they choose which winds to go with.”
Science 5 February 2010:
Vol. 327. no. 5966, pp. 682 – 685
Read a related story in the Times of Malta: timesofmalta.com – Researchers say mixed habitats best for butterflies