Tethered flight of six insect species (two pentatomid bugs, a moth, a butterfly, a muscid fly and a crane fly) was studied using several modifications of a dust flow visualization procedure. The spatial structure of the near vortex wake of flying specimens was reconstructed on the basis of two- dimensional flow pictures. The dynamics of the wake was followed during a stroke cycle, revealing interspecific differences in vortex formation. It is suggested that insects create a single vortex ring during each stroke. Therefore, the hypothesis of double vortex chains advanced by Brodsky is not verified. The same is true of the jet hypothesis of Bocharova-Messner. While pronating at the top of their trajectory, the flapping wings throw air masses off their lower surfaces, but there is not a jet from between their upper sides. Flow separation from leading edges was found to be a rare phenomenon, taking place irregularly during the stroke cycle. That is why, contrary to widespread theoretical expectations, the Weis-Fogh fling mechanism is not likely to contain a leading edge separation bubble, which must follow stalling at the front part of the wings. It is suggested that flying animals possess special mechanisms for extracting energy back from the near vortex wake. Some hypothetical adaptations for such an extraction in insects are put forward. Possible pathways for the evolution of insect flight are described.

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