Airspeed measurements during natural free flight were made on a total of 270 neotropical butterflies representing 62 species. Morphological data were obtained from the same individuals for which airspeeds had been determined. Flight speed was positively correlated with body mass, thoracic mass and wing loading. Controlling for body mass, higher wing loadings were correlated with increased flight speed. Flight speed and wing aspect ratio were negatively correlated. No consistent correlations were found between airspeed and wing length, wing area or body length. Released butterflies and butterflies encountered in natural free flight did not differ substantially in flight speed allometry. The observed scaling of flight speeds was similar to that derived for a much smaller sample of butterflies flying in an insectary, although absolute values of flight speed were approximately three times higher in natural flight and correlation coefficients of allometric regressions were typically lower. These results suggest that butterfly airspeeds under natural conditions can reasonably be predicted from morphological measurements, and that studying flight in enclosed spaces preserves the allometry of flight speeds.

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