Locust + Baby Oil + Heat + Intense Light = Amazing Video

By Rebecca Horne | April 27, 2010 12:40 pm

Flight and fluid dynamics scientist Adrian Thomas of the The Oxford Animal Flight Group made this motion study of a tethered desert locust. As it turns out, the gorgeous look of this video is dictated by the constraints of shooting insects and smoke currents. The black and white makes it easier to shoot, by providing more flexibility with two additional F-stops, and reducing the elements to their most basic parts. Thomas used high-speed video, shooting at 1000 frames per second in order to catch the 20-per-second wing beats of the locust, blasting it all with five kilowatts of light to bring out the smoke. Using another neat trick, the smoke is created by heating baby oil. The desert locust is a good subject because it tolerates the heat and light and is likely to behave normally in these conditions.

These detailed studies of insect flight dynamics have yielded significant results. Thomas: “The major obstacle to small micro-air-vehicles is power efficiency. The power density of current battery technologies is not sufficient to allow current flapping micro-air-vehicles to fly for long enough periods to be effective. The careful design of insect wings is one of the features that allows insects smaller than current micro-air-vehicles to achieve migratory flights taking many days and crossing continents.”

Video and still image courtesy Adrian Thomas, Animal Flight Group, Oxford University


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About Rebecca Horne

Rebecca Horne ( is an artist, multi-platform freelance writer, and award-winning photography director. She launched Visual Science for in March 2010. She also writes about science and photography for The WallStreet Journal. You can reach her at


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