How Do Butterflies Fly?


The Anatomy of the Butterfly

  • Butterflies have four wings, which are joined to their thorax. These wings are not joined together, but they do move together when the butterfly flies. Strong muscles are located in the thorax, allowing the wings to force air up and down in a motion similar to a helicopter or an airplane propeller.

While in Flight

  • When butterflies are flying, their wings move in a figure-eight motion. Scientists have also found that there is what appears to be a vortex at the front edge of the butterfly's wings when they're in motion. This is a swirl of air giving the butterfly the ability to strike its wing against the air in a more forceful way than birds can.

Small Bits of Strength

  • An interesting fact about butterflies is that they push more air with their wings than they actually need to stay in the air. The extra push makes them flit through the air, rather than flying in a steady path like other insects. Scientist believe this extra push of air makes it more difficult for the butterflies to be seen--and therefore caught--by prey. Butterflies use the air from a previous wing stroke for their next wing stroke, much like recycling wind power.

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