Flapping Flight: A Look at Flight in Slow Motion

Here’s a video clip of monarch flight in slow motion. The action is slowed down 50 times, to only 2% normal speed. In other words, each moment lasts fifty times longer than it did in reality. This means that the half second of monarch flight recorded here is stretched out to last 25 seconds.

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Links to Video Clip and Still Images

During “powered” or “flapping” flight, monarchs flap their wings about 5 to 12 times a second, depending on how hard they’re trying to move. They flap at the slower rate when flying leisurely, such as during migration. The faster rate is needed when flying into a strong headwind, or when trying to escape from a predator, for example.

Journaling Questions
  • How many times does the monarch flap in the half second video? Count the number of full strokes the butterfly takes.
  • Do you think it was flying leisurely—or trying to get away from the photographer?
  • When watching slow motion flight, what do you see that you’ve never noticed before? Record all the new things that you see.
  • If a monarch flaps its wings 5 to 12 times per second, how many times per minute does it flap? How many times can you flap your arms in a minute?

Video Clips and the Scientific Process
Observation is the first step in the scientific process. Video clips provide an opportunity for students to make authentic scientific observations. Here are some suggestions for viewing video clips as a scientist:

National Science Education Standards

  • Simple instruments, such as magnifiers, thermometers, and rulers, provide more information than scientists obtain using only their senses. (K-4)
  • An organism's behavior patterns are related to the nature of that organism's environment. (K-4)

National Math Standards

  • Understand meanings of operations and how they relate to one another.
  • Understand numbers, ways of representing numbers, relationships among numbers, and number systems.
  • Compute fluently and make reasonable estimates.
  • Solve problems that arise in mathematics and in other contexts.