Tuesday, December 8, 2009

It seems weightless butterflies can't fly

An unusual experiment went up to the International Space Station with the latest Space Shuttle flight. Monarch caterpillars were incubated on the Station, and the resulting butterflies observed as they tried to fly in weightless conditions. It seems they couldn't.

Here's Dr. Chip Taylor explaining the purpose of the experiment:

And here's the attempt of one butterfly to take wing in weightlessness:

I'm not sure whether this experiment could be classified as 'cruelty to butterflies'. After all, they had never flown in normal gravity, so they didn't know what they were missing: and I'm sure they didn't hurt themselves in the weightless environment by attempting to fly. Nevertheless, I like butterflies, so from a purely aesthetic perspective, I'd have liked them to have the chance to fly around as normal. Finally, I have to ask: was anything worthwhile or important learned from this experiment?



Rich said...

Perhaps we need a giant rocket ship to take two of every species away to a new eden in a galaxy far far away ... and they need to know if butterflies can make the trip.

I can't wait for them to try that trick with elephants. How will microgravity affect their ability to shoot water with their trunks? Inquiring scientists want to know.

And I'm just tickled that good money that could have gone into scholarships went into it. ... or did NASA give them the space, in which case we paid for it?

In any case, was there enough space in that cage for a butterfly to fly normally in gravity? I doubt it.


Anonymous said...

In any case, was there enough space in that cage for a butterfly to fly normally in gravity? I doubt it.


+1 It looked a bit tight to me as well

Let see if fleas can jump in space.


Don said...

I agree that it didn't look like they had enough room to attempt flight. Personally I would have figured out a way to give the butterfly more room to maneuver. I bet with a little practice they would have readily adapted.

LabRat said...

We learned something about the dynamics of butterfly flight, yes.

All things learned about the dynamics of flight are good.

Ron Russell said...

First time I heard about the Monarch Butterfly was many years ago when my father went to USM in Hattiesburg, MS. He was a WWII vet that went to school on the GI Bill and was taking a science course and took me with the class on a field trip. We counted the number of Monarchs coming between two building on campus in a 30 minute period. Always thought them to be interesting with the migrations and everything. So they can't fly in space. I wonder if they raised the cabin pressure to around 14 lbs for the experiment---just asking.
I was born in North Louisiana in the little town of Oak Grove, but have lived all over the state from Bastrop in the north to LaPlace in the south.
In responce to you reciprocal links I sent you an email, but decided to leave this comment also. I linked to you at two of my politically conservative blogs. Don't know if your comment box will accept html code so I'll just put them in this form:

TOTUS http://totus-blog.blogspot.com

Obama Cartoons http://obamacartoon.blogspot.com

Anonymous said...

I agree with the lack of space. Butterflies I see use a whole lot more room than that to fly. One flap of the wings was taking him across the cage. That seems to prove very little, IMO.


On a Wing and a Whim said...

I understand that space is extremely precious inside research habitats - but I question whether there's enough space in that box for the butterflies to learn to adapt to the microgravity. Perhaps if they'd used skippers or other much smaller butterflies better suited to space restrictions, we'd have learned more.

Dynamics of butterfly flight is a very interesting thing, and the more learned, the better - after all, why spend years trying to reinvent a principle from scratch when it's at hand to study?