Researchers Hiroto Tanaka and Isao Shimoyama have managed to create a model of the swallowtail butterfly's wing. Their research has not only shown how the undulating flight pattern of the swallowtail allows it to conserve energy, but the physiological importance of veins within the wing. By creating a physical model of the butterfly from a thin polymer film and balsa wood (it weighs 0.4 grams, only slightly heavier than the actual creature), they have been able to compare the flight patterns of the model butterflies (with and without veins) to live ones. After recording the live and artificial creatures on high speed film, Tanaka and Shimoyama were able to compare the data and begin to understand how simple up and down movement can create forward-thrust. It turns out, as well, that the presence of veins in the wings give them more rigidity, and therefore more lift for the effort expended. Lift was also enhanced by the undulating flight pattern of the butterfly.
The full research report is publicly available in the June issue of the journal Bioinspiration & Biomimetics.