Origami-like ladybug wings hold engineering secrets

  • Origami illustration of a ladybug's folded hind-wing. Image Credit: University of Japan/ Kazuya Saito et al
  • Translucent image reconstructed from the results of micro-computed tomography. Image Credit: University of Japan/ Kazuya Saito et al
  • A ladybug's wing-folding process demonstrated in five steps. Image Credit: University of Japan/ Kazuya Saito et al
Date:20 June 2017 Author: Jorika Moore Tags:, , ,

The ladybug is like an origami master – it folds its hind-wings into a neat package, tucking them away within a slender sliver of space between its abdomen and polka-dotted elytra wings that protect it. Then, when it’s time to take off it deploys its flying apparatus from beneath its colourful shell-like top wings in a blink of an eye and when it lands, it folds it back in just two. To the naked eye, this intricate movement is a mystery.

The attributes of a ladybugs wings inspired aerospace engineer Kazuya Saito from the University of Tokyo’s Institute of Industrial Science. Here he works on deployable structures like solar power systems for spacecrafts and sought to incorporate the origami-like wings into his designs.

Saito and his team figured out how ladybugs fold their wings by transplanting an artificial wing onto the insect to reveal the unfolding mechanism of the ladybug origami-like folds. The scientists swapped out a colourful top wing with a transparent artificial one and filmed what happened. His team also captured detailed 3D X-ray images using micro computed tomography. Together these unmasked the puzzling folding patterns.

To fold, the elytra first close and align backward. The abdomen moves up and down, retracting the wings. And during the process tiny structures on the abdomen and elytra create friction to hold the hind wings in place. The wings fold in and over and then tuck into a Z-like shape as illustrated in the video below.

The veins on the wings are springy like a tape measure and bend into a cylindrical-shape elastic under pressure. They bounce out like springs when the wings deploy.

According to Saito, “the ladybugs’ technique for achieving complex folding is quite fascinating and novel, particularly for researchers in the fields of robotics, mechanics, aerospace and mechanical engineering.”

The ladybug hands free origami trick is captivating and the principles behind might solve many engineering problems.


Sourced: The University of Tokyo

Image Credit: PNAS/Kazuya Saito et al

Video Credit: Scientific American


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