Insect Flight Mill Research Returns Valuable Information


M.S. student, Teah Smith watches a moth do laps on a flight mill. Photo by Bob Hoffmann/WSU MNEC.

Researchers at the WSU Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center in Wenatchee have resurrected an old technology, the flight mill, to put moths through their paces and see what moths in action are made of.

Insect flight mills were originally designed around 1895, and still operate under a simple principle: create a miniature mill with a horizontal rotation, attach an insect, and observe the insect in flight. While WSU entomologists didn’t invent the flight mill, they have significantly improved it by using polymer and metal components with magnetic repulsion to nearly eliminate friction. A sensor detects completed rotations, and a computer tallies rotations and calculates total flight distance.

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