Ladybugs’ Wing-Folding Technique Uncovered! New-Style Umbrellas Could Result


A Ladybug takes flight.  (Photo: U. of Tokyo)

Ladybugs are beautifully colored little creatures that, like bumble bees, seem to defy nature in that they fly with bodies far larger than logic, or perceived aerodynamic rules, would enable a living entity to become airborne under its own power.

Odd as that is, scientists have long pondered another mystery about the ladybug, a type of beetle: How they manage to corral fairly substantial wings into extremely tight folds, making them – the wings – virtually invisible when the, um, bugs are at rest.

Mystery solved! Not only have Japanese scientists at the University of Tokyo figured out how that’s done, they’ve suggested that the ladybug’s wing-folding system could give rise to a change in the shape of umbrellas, the design of which had essentially remained unchanged for more than 1,000 years.

Sarah Knapston, Science Editor at The Telegraph in London, described the finding recently. In a nutshell, it boils down to the fact that the folding wing lies beneath the colorful one that shields and protects the former.

To arrive at their conclusion, the Japanese scientists replaced the spotted forewing, known as an elytron, with a transparent piece of resin. What they learned could help engineers design foldable solar collectors or even a new type of umbrella.

Kazuya Saito, Assistant Professor at the University of Tokyo’s Institute of Industrial Science, designs foldable structures—so insect wings are a natural interest. “Compared with other beetles, ladybugs are very good at flying and frequently take off,” he tells Bryson Masse at Gizmodo. “I thought their wing transformation systems are excellent and have large potential for engineering.”

He and his team tried several methods to figure out how the ladybug folded its wing. They took high-speed images of the insect opening and closing its wings, but still couldn’t see the actual folding process under the opaque spotted forewings. They attempted to 3D print an artificial wing, but they couldn’t make one that was transparent enough to see thorough.

As Masse reports, the researchers’ secretary was the one who came up with a solution: clear nail art resin. After crafting the wing out of the resin, the team was able to observe how the insect folded and unfolded its wings.

The creatures use the edge of the elytron and abdominal movements to fold the wing along creased lines. Examination of the wings using a CT scan also revealed that they have springy veins similar to a tape measure that are rigid enough to allow the insects to fly, but elastic enough to fold up.

Saito tells Masse that the wings are unusual because “transformable structures” usually involve moving parts and joints. But the ladybug’s wing lacks those complications, completing a relatively complex task through flexibility and elasticity. The paper appears in The Proceedings of the National Academies of Science.

While the structure of ladybug wings may have applications for things like foldable solar panels for satellites and space ships, Saito seems most excited about its application to something much more domestic. “I believe that beetle wing folding has the potential to change the umbrella design that has been basically unchanged for more than 1000 years,” he tells Knapton. Collapsible umbrellas usually have multiple parts and are easily broken at the joints. But the ladybug umbrella could be made from”seamless flexible frames,” he says, making it indestructible in strong wind and quick to deploy using “stored elastic energy.”

Saito admits that he doesn’t have a design for the umbrella yet, but perhaps it will look something like this.


14,000-year-old human evidence found in Western British Columbia

ancient site

Photo: Joanne McSporran

A coastal strip of land in British Columbia has been occupied at least 14,000 years – back to the time of the last Ice Age, when warm water influences from the Pacific Ocean kept this area from freezing. A CBC report last month, detailing how a meters-deep excavation turned up evidence dating back at least that far, said the discovery lends credence to oral histories of the area by the Heiltsuk Nation, an aboriginal group there. The ancient site, uncovered last November, shows that people occupied this area long before the rise and fall of the Roman Empire and the creation of the Pyramids in Egypt, the Vancouver Sun said.

The Triquet Island settlement, reachable only by air or sea, has produced a hoard of valuable artifacts, including pieces of bent wood, compound fish hooks and assorted stone tools. The site is one of the oldest evidence of human habitation ever found in North America.

William Housty, a member of Heiltsuk Nation, told that the validation by “Western science and archeology” of his people’s long-time occupation of the area can help the Heiltsuk people as they negotiate with the Canadian government over title rights to their traditional territory.

Uber A Marriage-Wrecker? French Court Will Decide


A French businessman who was cheating on his wife – or so she suspects, and thinks she can prove – learned about his straying ways after he borrowed her iPhone to schedule an Uber. When he hung up, the app didn’t, and continued sending reports on his whereabouts to his wife’s phone. As a result, the French paper/website Le Figaro, reported recently, she filed for divorce.

Rightly enough, the allegedly cheating husband believes, Uber should pay what he’s suing the company for: $45 million. (How, in such a case, such a number is decided upon, is a mystery!)

His claim is that the app, “not the whole cheating thing,” as The Daily Dot put it, ) led to the wife’s divorce appeal.

Le Figaro was able to duplicate the “problem” on iPhones – and no such “fault” has been found to affect Android phones, news that no doubt comes as a relief to owners (or borrowers) of phone using that operation system.

Uber hardly surprisingly, would no doubt be laughing at the lawsuit, which it has no intention of settling. But fighting lawsuits is expensive, and a distraction from business-as-usual.

(What was I saying?)

The Daily Dot said the case will have an initial court hearing late this month, with the French government – meaning taxpayers who support the government – picking up their side of the tab. The husband will be responsible for his share of the costs.


Pregnant,’Friend’ of Pope, She Dies Mysteriously In Rome Suburb


St. Peter’s Church behind Vatican Square, actually an oval. (Incredibly, early one morning in the early 1970’s, I was the only person in that ‘Square,’ where I was taking pictures.)

(An aside: Who knew there is an hotel within the walls of Vatican City, a 110-acre city-state (pop. 842 in 2014) smack dab in the middle of Rome?

(Casa Santa Marta happens to be, as well, the home of the pope, the residence of 40 or so priests and bishops who work in the Vatican. This large structure is considered to be an hotel because it is where Vatican visitors — bishops and other dignitaries from around the world — are housed. They enjoy, as you might expect, full hotel services throughout their time there.)

Mariam Wuolou, a 34-year-old receptionist at the Domus Santa Marta, a small hotel within the walls of Vatican City, was seven months pregnant when she was found dead, in an advanced state of decomposition, a few days ago.

Well known to Pope Francis, who is said to have seen and greeted her every morning and evening when she gave him his key and personal messages, Wuolou was found in her apartment in a suburb of Rome by her brother, who told authorities she hadn’t been answering her phone. She’d been on medical leave from her job for several weeks.

The Pope is said to have been distressed at news of her demise.

A native of Eritrea, Wuolou was married to an Italian, but it doesn’t appear she was (possibly ever!) living with him. There’s now speculation if hers was an arranged, marriage-of-convenience, to provide her Italian citizenship and, thus, the right to emigrate and reside in Italy.

(One must pass through Italy – from the airport, a train station or by road – to reach Vatican City, which is considered to be a self-contained entity beyond Italian law and jurisdiction.)

The Daily Beast reported today (2/23) that the cause of Wuolou’s death remains a mystery, despite extensive searches of her apartment and personal effects by investigators.

She was found fully clothed, and there was no indication she’d been physically harmed in any way. And though her medical records showed she was diabetic, a condition that can be harmful and even fatal during pregnancy, it isn’t clear if an Insulin error caused or contributed to her death. Police are said to doubt her death was Insulin-related.

The Vatican’s concern about this matter is so strong that authorities there – the ‘home’ of the Catholic church – have called for a complete autopsy and a criminal investigation, according to the Rome-based newspaper Il Messaggero., the paper’s website, also noted that a magistrate ordered a DNA test of Wuolou’s unborn infant.