Harpenden insect experts solve 40-year-old mystery

PUBLISHED: 19:04 22 November 2009 | UPDATED: 14:41 06 May 2010

A MYSTERY that has bugged scientists for over 40 years has been cracked by insect researchers at Rothamsted. Researchers at Rothamsted Research in Harpenden and the University of Greenwich have explained a characteristic feature of insect migration that h

A MYSTERY that has bugged scientists for over 40 years has been cracked by insect researchers at Rothamsted.

Researchers at Rothamsted Research in Harpenden and the University of Greenwich have explained a characteristic feature of insect migration that has puzzled researchers for decades: how do insects maintain wind-related orientation at high altitudes in the dark?

The project, which involved studying the environmental clues used by nocturnal insect migrants to maintain common headings, found that insects responded to the effects of turbulence by using their sensors to detect faint air movements.

Lead researcher Andy Reynolds said that the clever adaption helped the insects fly at quicker speeds: "Common orientation close to the downwind direction allows the nocturnal migrants to add their flight speeds to the wind speed, thus increasing the distance travelled during the migratory flight."

The results of the experiment, which was conducted by mathematical modellers and biologists, appeared in a Royal Society journal last week.

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