However, when he searched the literature he was disappointed to find that there were hardly any studies of this particular behaviour. 'This was a bit surprising given that they are doing this all the time', Sapir says, explaining that the tiny aviators visit flowers to feed once every 2 min.
'I thought that this was an interesting topic to learn how they are doing it and what the consequences are for their metabolism', Sapir says, so he and his postdoc advisor, Robert Dudley, set about measuring the flight movements and metabolism of reversing hummingbirds and they publish their discovery that reversing is much cheaper than hovering flight and no more costly than forward flight for hummingbirds in The Journal of Experimental Biology at http://jeb.biologists.org.
Capturing five Anna's hummingbirds at a feeder located just inside a University of California Berkeley laboratory window, Sapir trained the birds to fly in a wind tunnel by tricking the birds into feeding from a syringe of sucrose disguised as a flower. He then filmed each bird as it hovered to feed before returning to the perch when satisfied.
Knowing that the bird would return to the feeder again soon, Sapir turned on the air flow when the hummingbird arrived, directing the 3 m s flow so that the bird had to fly backwards against the wind to remain stationary at the 'flower'. Then he repeated the experiment with the syringe feeder rotated through 180 deg while the hummingbird flew forward into the wind to stay in place.
Analysing the three flight styles, Sapir recalls that there were clear differences between forward and backward flight. The hummingbirds' body posture became much more upright as they flew backward, forcing them to bend their heads more to insert their beaks into the simulated flower. In addition, the reversing birds reduced the inclination of the plane of the wing beat so that it became more horizontal. And when Sapir analysed the wing beat frequency, he found that the birds were beating their wings at 43.8 Hz, instead of the 39.7 Hz that they use while flying forward. 'That is quite a lot for hummingbirds because they hardly change their wing beat frequency', explains Sapir.
Repeating the experiments while recording the birds' oxygen consumption rates, Sapir says, 'We expected that we would find high or intermediate values for metabolism during backward flight because the bird has an upright body position and this means that they have a higher drag. Also, the birds use backward flight frequently, but not all the time, so we assumed that it would not be more efficient in terms of the flight mechanics compared with forward flight.' However, Sapir was surprised to discover that instead of being more costly, backward flight was as cheap as forward flight and 20% more efficient than hovering. And when Sapir gently increased the wind flow from 0 m s in 1.5 m s steps for a single bird, he found that flight was cheapest at speeds of 3 m s and above, although the bird was unable to fly backwards faster than 4.5 m s.
Describing hummingbirds as insects trapped in a bird's body, Sapir adds that the fluttering flight of hummingbirds has more in common with insects than with their feathered cousins and he is keen to find out whether other hovering animals such as small songbirds and nectar-feeding bats can reverse too.
IF REPORTING ON THIS STORY, PLEASE MENTION THE JOURNAL OF EXPERIMENTAL BIOLOGY AS THE SOURCE AND, IF REPORTING ONLINE, PLEASE CARRY A LINK TO: http://jeb.biologists.org/content/215/20/3603.abstract
REFERENCE: Sapir, N. and Dudley, R. (2012). Backward flight in hummingbirds employs unique kinematic adjustments and entails low metabolic cost. J. Exp. Biol. 215, 3603-3611.
This article is posted on this site to give advance access to other authorised media who may wish to report on this story. Full attribution is required, and if reporting online a link to jeb.biologists.com is also required. The story posted here is COPYRIGHTED. Therefore advance permission is required before any and every reproduction of each article in full. PLEASE CONTACT firstname.lastname@example.org
Kathryn Knight | EurekAlert!
Cancer diagnosis: no more needles?
25.05.2018 | Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel
Less is more? Gene switch for healthy aging found
25.05.2018 | Leibniz-Institut für Alternsforschung - Fritz-Lipmann-Institut e.V. (FLI)
The more electronics steer, accelerate and brake cars, the more important it is to protect them against cyber-attacks. That is why 15 partners from industry and academia will work together over the next three years on new approaches to IT security in self-driving cars. The joint project goes by the name Security For Connected, Autonomous Cars (SecForCARs) and has funding of €7.2 million from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research. Infineon is leading the project.
Vehicles already offer diverse communication interfaces and more and more automated functions, such as distance and lane-keeping assist systems. At the same...
A research team led by physicists at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) has developed molecular nanoswitches that can be toggled between two structurally different states using an applied voltage. They can serve as the basis for a pioneering class of devices that could replace silicon-based components with organic molecules.
The development of new electronic technologies drives the incessant reduction of functional component sizes. In the context of an international collaborative...
At the LASYS 2018, from June 5th to 7th, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) will be showcasing processes for the laser material processing of tomorrow in hall 4 at stand 4E75. With blown bomb shells the LZH will present first results of a research project on civil security.
At this year's LASYS, the LZH will exhibit light-based processes such as cutting, welding, ablation and structuring as well as additive manufacturing for...
There are videos on the internet that can make one marvel at technology. For example, a smartphone is casually bent around the arm or a thin-film display is rolled in all directions and with almost every diameter. From the user's point of view, this looks fantastic. From a professional point of view, however, the question arises: Is that already possible?
At Display Week 2018, scientists from the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research IAP will be demonstrating today’s technological possibilities and...
So-called quantum many-body scars allow quantum systems to stay out of equilibrium much longer, explaining experiment | Study published in Nature Physics
Recently, researchers from Harvard and MIT succeeded in trapping a record 53 atoms and individually controlling their quantum state, realizing what is called a...
25.05.2018 | Event News
02.05.2018 | Event News
13.04.2018 | Event News
25.05.2018 | Event News
25.05.2018 | Machine Engineering
25.05.2018 | Life Sciences