At first glance, the humble fruit fly doesn't have much in common with the rat. However, take a closer look at the literature on insect flight, and it's clear the fruit fly is a very popular organism. However, there are some drawbacks to working with fruit flies; their size for a start. Which is one of the reasons that Yanpeng Liu and Mao Sun have turned their attention to the yellow and black drone fly (p. 2014); it's bigger and it's happy to hover in a brightly lit lab. Filming the hovering insects with three cameras at 5000 frames s–1 and comparing the insect's performance with that of the fruit fly (Fry et al., 2005, The Journal of Experimental Biology, 208, 2303-2318), Liu and Sun were able to see that the insects' flight patterns are rather different. The drone fly moves its wings in a shallow U shape while the fruit fly's wing beats were much steeper. Reconstructing the drone fly's flapping movements in a computer simulation and calculating the miniscule forces that keep it aloft, the team found that instead of relying on drag, the drone fly relies entirely on lift forces to remain airborne and elastic energy storage may supply 40% of the power for hovering flight.

Liu, Y. and Sun, M. (
). Wing kinematics measurement and aerodynamics of hovering droneflies.
J. Exp. Biol.