Ladybird beetle wings fold themselves into a tidy package after flight, and now scientists understand how it works.
A snap of the wings tips this overturned beetle upright. It then performs some hands-free origami to re-tuck its wings. Scientists didn’t know how a wing strong enough for flight could fold so neatly. A ladybird beetle keeps its hindwings sheathed when walking, lifting the spotted case –elytra- to unfurl the wings for flight. On landing, the wings pack themselves away. Since the wing folding process is hidden under the elytra, scientists replaced part of the case with clear plastic so they could peek in at the wing in motion. They tracked how the wing bent in upon itself like a Z and documented the 3D shape with X-rays. Thick veins work like tape springs. They store energy for quick deployment and stiffen to provide stability for flight. But bend like a hinge for compact storage. This insect origami could inspire folding gadgets like umbrellas or satellites.