Erratic Flight Anatomy

Study of Butterfly Flight Pattern

Jiaying Qin
MLA I 2022
Hyemin Gu
MLA1 AP 2022
Tianwei Li
MLA I 2022
1 Butterfly’s flight pathes and direction of motion

This project is a digital documentation of the unpredictable flight of a butterfly to clarify and visualize its pattern. The erratic flight of butterflies is an evolutionary tactic to avoid predation. Butterflies perform swoops and tumbles by generating extra turbulence with each wing beat; they also constantly adjust their centre of gravity by shifting the position of their body and wings.

The research process involved referring to scientific investigations of the kinematic and aerodynamic properties of butterfly flight. To visualize our research, we mimicked the flight pattern using human motion and used a mobile app “Fologram” for motion tracking. The resultant data was manipulated in Grasshopper C#.

The result is an animation with three layers of information, showing the direction of flight at a given time and tracing the flight path two different scenarios. Specifically, the butterfly’s flight path in a single direction is overlapped with bars representing the direction of motion at each time interval; the two are then overlapped with the flight path associated with flying in a loop. This project shows that although the butterfly’s flight is very unpredictable to the human eye, it roughly follows a sine/cosine curve pattern when abstracted and simplified.

Project video
2 "Snapshots of a butterfly in forward flight" (Zhang et al., 2021).
3 Sketch showing the design logic of the butterfly's movement and form.