Wings of a dead bug

Mundane tasks throughout the day like washing my hands would be a lot more efficient if my visual focus could determine details at the microscopic level. It seems apparent then that there is a tradeoff between visual acuity and scope, and the behavior is a result of an evolutionary trajectory. Foldscope negates the costs of having a wider visual field by allowing the observer easy and affordable access to details unseen by the naked eye.

Traveling across rural farmlands to get to work is especially challenging during the nighttime. A combination of intense fog and the lack of streetlights require bright headlights on my car. Unfortunately, this emits light pollution to the surrounding environment. Considering the fields are a habitat for many bugs that benefit from the rich-nutrient soil, and the evolutionary predation of these bugs is to move towards a changing light source, the light beams on my car present a very real threat to the feeding behaviors of many of these bugs. This is evident by the many bug splatters on my windshield, my bumper, and the hood of my car. Although the gravity of this issue is yet to be known, I sought to use the Foldscope to determine how these bugs hit my car by observing the damage to their anatomical structure . In this way, I could possibly understand the way in which these bugs fly to their demise and perhaps find better ways to counteract these occurrences.

Just from an initial observation of the blotches on the hood of my car, it is apparent that each spot has two distinct features. The first is the streak which, judging by its elongated feature and dark coloring, represents the central part of the body. Although it is difficult to determine what the species of this bug was, it is clear that most bug anatomies have a central body that includes the anterior head and the posterior abdomen. This did not seem like a sufficient use of the Foldscope because scraping the contents was difficult and there did not seem to be an indicative feature of these streaks. However, the second aspect of the spots seemed to be more intact, and thus more interesting to observe. In many of these spots, there were wings ventral to the central body. Most of the spots had at least one of these wings intact, and it was interesting to note that there were some common patterns to these distinct patches. This suggests that there is a similar way in which all of these bugs hit the windshield.

Using the Foldscope, to focus on the only intact body part to the wing, we rendered the following images:

From these images, it is apparent that the connecting part of the body to the wing had a very clean break. Thus, it leads us to believe that the separation was due to an evenly distributed breaking force from the body and wing instead of the impact of the car on the wing.

Using the Foldscope, to focus on the wing itself, we rendered the following images:

Whilst preparing our sample slide for the microscopic image, a glint of bright lights with what seemed to be red, blue, and green was seen from the wing, meaning this wing had translucent coloration. Considering translucence is an expressed trait that does not come from intrinsic molecules but the reflectance of light on geometric patterns, it was clear that the physiological structure of the wing remained. This was made clear when small ridges on the wings were seen on the Folsdscope images. Furthermore, it was clear from taking pictures on every part of the wing demonstrated how it remained intact. Thus, because the wing retained its structure almost entirely, it was safe to assume that the impact of the car was mostly on the body and this led to the separation from the body.

What was unexpected was the behavior of these wings under a microscope. When obtaining these samples, the car had already been parked for a few days. However, when we tried to move our sample slide around, there was a noticeable vibration. I first thought this was from my unsteady hand. However, the vibration continued even after I put the sample with the Foldscope down. Furthermore, there was a noticeable ticking noise from the slide, and every time this occurred, the image became unfocused. My first thought was: It’s alive!

This was puzzling because the wing had been separated from the main part of the body where we assumed nerve functions were centralized. However, after much research, there are nerve endings not the exoskeleton of insects. The small body part that remained seemed to still have these nerves intact and the movement of the slides stimulated a response of movement! This incredible process was difficult to capture in video as it happened very quickly, but further images on the Foldscope shows little ridges on the body part that we can assume to contain nerve endings. Thus, this breakage conserving some nerve functions provides further evidence that the force of the car was on the body of the organism and not the wings which still had even nerve fibers intact.

These findings were important to our question, as the Foldscope produced further information on the details of how the bug interacted with the car. We consider from the images produced by our Foldscopes that the wings retained their structure even after breakage from the central body and that the body received a high force of impact. These high velocity impacts could perhaps be reduced by improving the structure of the vehicle such that laminar airflow is increased. The wings hit the vehicle last, so increasing laminar airflow allows the wings to uptake the air force from the vehicle that moves around and on top of the vehicle instead of being splattered upon the car. Conversely, other treatments like spraying insect repellent on the car would not resolve these occurrences because they neglected the physical mechanisms made clear by the Foldscape images.

Thus, the Foldscope elucidated a process we would not have been able to determine by observations with the naked eye. For this reason, the Foldscope can help determine effective solutions to ecological problems that are beyond our sensory scales.

I conducted this project as part of Professor Pringle’s EEB321 class at Princeton University.

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