Why do insects have such a high density of flow-sensing hairs? Insights from the hydromechanics of biomimetic MEMS sensors

Jerome Casas, Thomas Steinmann, Gijsbertus J.M. Krijnen

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    Insects and arachnids are often quite hairy. The reasons for this high density of sensory hairs are unknown. Previous studies have predicted strong hydrodynamic coupling between densely packed airflow-sensitive hairs. Flow perturbation owing to single hairs and between tandem hairs, however, has never been experimentally measured. This paper aims to quantify the extent of flow perturbation by single and tandem hairs directly, using biomimetic microelectromechanical system (MEMS) hairs as physical models and particle image velocimetry (PIV) for flow visualization. Single and tandem MEMS hairs of varying interhair distances were subjected to oscillatory flows of varying frequency. Decreasing hair-to-hair distance markedly reduced flow velocity amplitude and increased the phase shift between the far-field flow and the flow between hairs. These effects were stronger for lower flow frequencies. We predict strong hydrodynamic coupling within whole natural hair canopies exposed to natural stimuli, depending on arthropod and hair sizes, and hair density. Thus, rather than asking why arthropods have so many hairs, it may be useful to address why hairs are packed together at such high densities, particularly given the exquisite sensitivity of a single hair.
    Original languageUndefined
    Pages (from-to)1487-1495
    Number of pages9
    JournalJournal of the Royal Society. Interface
    Publication statusPublished - 28 Apr 2010


    • TST-Life like
    • Sensory ecology
    • mechanosensors
    • hair canopy
    • IR-72796
    • EWI-18355
    • Biomimetics
    • Boundary layer
    • METIS-271009
    • physical ecology

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