DISCOVERIES | 08.28.18
Lens of Time: The Art of Staying Stable
A tiny copper cannonball is no match for this hawkmoth's hovering prowess.
It looks like a hummingbird and flies like a hummingbird, so it must be a hummingbird, right? Not necessarily. Look closer and you may find that the hovering pollinator you’re watching is, in fact, a hawkmoth—a member of a fast-flapping family of moths (Sphingidae) that are among the largest flying insects in the world. Even in turbulent conditions, these extraordinary creatures can hover in midair as they delicately extend a proboscis that can measure up to 35 centimeters (14 inches) long to feed on nectar deep inside flowers. "It’s like trying to drink from a soda can with a six-foot-long straw,” says scientist Tyson Hedrick.
Somehow, despite myriad factors that might throw them off course, hawkmoths are able to remain surprisingly stable when feeding. Moreover, they can recover extremely quickly from disturbances that knock them off balance, often returning to feed almost immediately. To understand how these deft flyers are able to use their wings and bodies to reset themselves after being bumped or jostled, Hedrick and his colleagues at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill use multi-camera high-speed videography to capture 3D video of hawkmoths as they hover. What they’re finding will help scientists imagine a new generation of flapping-wing robotic vehicles—unprecedented and resilient machines that can weather the kind of turbulent environments that are currently off limits to ultra-small drones.
We’re a free multimedia magazine without a paywall or intrusive ads—and we’d like to keep it that way. We believe these stories need to be told; that inspiring both a deep appreciation for life on Earth and hope for its future is a critical step toward a thriving planet. If you agree, please consider making a donation to help secure the future of
. Every little bit helps.
ABOUT THE Producers
Spine Films is a San Francisco Bay Area production company specializing in international science, nature, environment, and arts media. They search for stories that provide opportunities to find the magical in the mundane, and that celebrate the beautiful intricacy of our Universe. You can find their films and stories on PBS, Discovery Networks, National Geographic and on websites and broadcast stations around the world.
Lens of Time
What these single-celled, gelatinous blobs lack in brain power, they make up for with surprisingly complex decision-making.
video | 06.07.16
Lens of Time: Slime Lapse
For these jumping spiders, stayin' alive requires all the right dance moves—and the perfect soundtrack, too.
video | 09.13.16
Lens of Time: Spider Seduction
Under cover of subtlety and slow-motion, plants not only perceive the organisms around them, in some cases, they also prepare for battle.
video | 11.07.17
Lens of Time: When Plants Fight Back
is powered by the California Academy of Sciences, a renowned scientific and educational institution dedicated to exploring, explaining, and sustaining life on Earth.
Don't miss a thing.
Sign up to receive the latest updates and new stories frombioGraphic