Sparrows flying backwards

Sparrows that fly backwards, bumble flies in combat and geese that fly upside down. That's the result of a unique scientific project that involved a large number of volunteers. About two hundred people answered the call of the Wageningen University Research Centre, and went on the hunt for images with a high-speed camera.
The project produced a large number of films showing the complicated flight movements of bumblebees and other insects. The initiator is the aerodynamic and experimental zoologist David Lentink, who managed to come up with new ideas thanks to the images.


"We have, for example, footage of a wasp. This insect has two pairs of wings, like other insects. But during flapping, the pre-flight warm-up, the wings are coupled together so it appears to have only one pair of wings. That's something I've never seen before. And, as far as we know, it's also the first slow-motion footage of geese flying upside down."
Lentink is researching the evolutionary development of different forms of animal flight. But the aeronautics sector can also make use of the knowledge. Lentink graduated as an aerodynamics engineer, but later turned to zoology. For his doctoral thesis he investigated how the flight and swimming techniques of animals can be used for the development of micro aeroplanes.


The filming project was made possible by a competition that rewarded scientists who were best at disseminating their research to the general public. With the 200,000 euros received by Lentink and his team, they were able to buy 31 high-speed cameras, one of which alone cost 140,000 euros. A total of 460 people were trained to operate the cameras. The project will continue for two more years. The images can be viewed at

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