A quasi-steady aerodynamic analysis of forward flight was performed on 15 species of neotropical butterflies for which kinematic and morphological data were available. Mean lift coefficients required for flight typically exceeded maximum values obtained on insect wings under conditions of steady flow, thereby implicating unsteady aerodynamic mechanisms even during fast forward flight of some butterflies. The downstroke produced vertical forces on average 18% in excess of those necessary to support the body weight through the wingbeat, while the upstroke contributed minimal or negative vertical force. Estimated effective angles of incidence (αT of the wings averaged 39° during the downstroke and −22° during the upstroke; spanwise variation in αT was greater than the average difference between half-strokes. Total mechanical power requirements of forward flight averaged 12.5 W kg−1, for the case of perfect elastic storage of whig inertial energy, and 20.2 W kg−1, assuming zero elastic energy storage. Energetic costs of the erratic trajectories during forward flight increased mechanical power requirements by an average of 43%, assuming perfect elastic storage. Fluctuations in horizontal kinetic energy of the center of mass were principally responsible for this dramatic increase. When comparing different species, total mechanical power increased linearly with forward airspeed (assuming perfect elastic energy storage of inertial energy) and scaled with mass0.26 If no elastic energy storage was assumed, mechanical power was independent of airspeed and was proportional to mass0.36. Estimated metabolic rates during flight averaged 22 and 36 ml O2 g−1 h−1, for the cases of perfect and zero elastic storage, respectively.

Note: Mailing address: Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, APO Miami, FL 34002, USA.

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