Representatives of six butterfly species, flying freely in the field or in simulated field conditions, were filmed with a high-speed ciné camera and subjected to kinematic and morphometric analysis. This is the first detailed investigation on an insect performing the varied patterns of ‘natural’ flight. Kinematic parameters in representative sequences of selected flight modes were calculated and compared, and wing shapes were characterized using aspect ratio and non-dimensional moment parameters.

The analyses and field observations of these and other butterflies suggest possible correlations between flight performance and wing shape. The behaviour of individual species conforms reasonably well with crude predictions based on aspect ratio, wing loading and wing inertia.

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