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Movement: Nature's Flying Machines

Author(s): Blake Cahill1, Anna Monfils1, Debra Linton1

Central Michigan University

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In this lab, you will explore the physics of flight, the adaptations that make powered flight possible, and the evolution of powered flight in vertebrates and invertebrates.

Licensed under CC Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International according to these terms

Version 1.0 - published on 23 May 2019 doi:10.25334/Q4P165 - cite this


Movement is a key function required for the survival and reproduction of organisms. Microorganisms, such as bacteria and unicellular protists, achieve movement via cellular structures such as cilia and flagellae. Plants and fungi are incapable of individual locomotion but can disperse their offspring via seeds and spores and can grow towards or away from environmental stimuli. Animals have evolved a multitude of methods for movement in terrestrial, aquatic, and aerial environments. One of the most successful types of animal locomotion is flight. Flight has evolved at least four separate times, in the insects, pterosaurs, birds, and bats. Flying animals have a diversity of body forms and aerial abilities. They can teach us a lot about form and function. In fact, scientists study animal flight to develop flying robots, airplanes, and rocket ships. In today’s lab, you will investigate the forces involved in the form and function of flight in birds and insects.

Students completing this module will be able to:

  • Explain the forces acting on flight. 
  • Describe how lift is created by wings.
  • Compare how antagonistic muscles (flexors, extensors) power flight in animals with endoskeletons and exoskeletons. 
  • Discuss how wing morphology (form) relates to flight ability (function).
  • Evaluate the impact of body mass and wing morphology on bird migration distance.

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