Resilin in dragonfly and damselfly wings and its implications for wing flexibility

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Abstract

Although there is mounting evidence that passive mechanical dynamics of insect wings play an integral role in insect flight, our understanding of the structural details underlying insect wing flexibility remains incomplete. Here, we use comparative morphological and mechanical techniques to illuminate the function and diversity of two mechanisms within Odonata wings presumed to affect dynamic wing deformations: flexible resilin vein-joints and cuticular spikes. Mechanical tests show that joints with more resilin have lower rotational stiffness and deform more in response to a load applied to an intact wing. Morphological studies of 12 species of Odonata reveal that resilin joints and cuticular spikes are widespread taxonomically, yet both traits display a striking degree of morphological and functional diversity that follows taxonomically distinct patterns. Interestingly, damselfly wings (suborder Zygoptera) are mainly characterized by vein-joints that are double-sided (containing resilin both dorsally and ventrally), whereas dragonfly wings (suborder Epiprocta) are largely characterized by single-sided vein-joints (containing resilin either ventrally or dorsally, but not both). The functional significance and diversity of resilin joints and cuticular spikes could yield insight into the evolutionary relationship between form and function of wings, as well as revealing basic principles of insect wing mechanical design. J. Morphol., 2011. © 2011 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

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