Body miniaturization in insects is predicted to result in decreased flight speed and therefore limited ability of these insects to fly upwind. Therefore, tiny insects are often regarded as relying on passive dispersal by winds. We tested this assumption in a wind tunnel by measuring the burst speed of Eretmocerus mundus (Mercet), a beneficial parasitoid wasp with body length <1 mm. Insects were filmed flying upwind towards a UV light source in a range of wind speed 0–0.5 m/s. The Insects flew towards the UV light in the absence and presence of wind but increased their flight speed in the presence of wind. They also changed flight direction to be directly upwind and maintained this body orientation even while drifted backwards relative to the ground by stronger winds. Field measurements showed that the average flight speed observed in the wind tunnel (0.3 m/s) is sufficient to allow flying between plants even when the wind speed above the vegetation was 3–5 folds higher. A simulation of the ability of the insects to control their flight trajectory towards a visual target (sticky traps) in winds show that the insects can manipulate their progress relative to the ground even when the wind speed exceeds their flight speed. The main factors determining the ability of the insects to reach the trap were trap diameter and the difference between insect flight speed and wind speed. The simulation also predicts the direction of arrival to the sticky target showing that many of the insects reach the target from the leeward side (i.e. by flight upwind). In light of these results, the notion that miniature insects passively disperse by winds is misleading because it disregards the ability of the insects to control their drift relative to the ground in winds that are faster than their flight speed.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- !!Agronomy and Crop Science
- !!Insect Science