A computational fluid dynamics of 'clap and fling' in the smallest insects

Laura A. Miller, Charles S. Peskin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In this paper, we have used the immersed boundary method to solve the two-dimensional Navier-Stokes equations for two immersed wings performing an idealized 'clap and fling' stroke and a 'fling' half-stroke. We calculated lift coefficients as functions of time per wing for a range of Reynolds numbers (Re) between 8 and 128. We also calculated the instantaneous streamlines around each wing throughout the stroke cycle and related the changes in lift to the relative strength and position of the leading and trailing edge vortices. Our results show that lift generation per wing during the 'clap and fling' of two wings when compared to the average lift produced by one wing with the same motion falls into two distinct patterns. For Re=64 and higher, lift is initially enhanced during the rotation of two wings when lift coefficients are compared to the case of one wing. Lift coefficients after fling and during the translational part of the stroke oscillate as the leading and trailing edge vortices are alternately shed. In addition, the lift coefficients are not substantially greater in the two-winged case than in the one-winged case. This differs from three-dimensional insect flight where the leading edge vortices remain attached to the wing throughout each half-stroke. For Re=32 and lower, lift coefficients per wing are also enhanced during wing rotation when compared to the case of one wing rotating with the same motion. Remarkably, lift coefficients following two-winged fling during the translational phase are also enhanced when compared to the one-winged case. Indeed, they begin about 70% higher than the one-winged case during pure translation. When averaged over the entire translational part of the stroke, lift coefficients per wing are 35% higher for the two-winged case during a 4.5 chord translation following fling. In addition, lift enhancement increases with decreasing Re. This result suggests that the Weis-Fogh mechanism of lift generation has greater benefit to insects flying at lower Re. Drag coefficients produced during fling are also substantially higher for the two-winged case than the one-winged case, particularly at lower Re.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)195-212
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 2005


  • Aerodynamics
  • Clap and fling
  • Computational fluid dynamics
  • Insect flight
  • Reynolds number

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Physiology
  • Aquatic Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Insect Science


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