An experimental procedure was developed to visualize the vortex wake of free-flying insects. Neotropical Heliconius erato butterflies were filmed hovering inside a transparent plexiglas cube. A dispersed cloud of Sephadex particles was used as the visualization medium. The flow field around the flying insect was illuminated with a planar laser beam, thereby generating a cross-sectional perspective of the three-dimensional vortex wake. Thirty-seven flight sequences from five individuals were filmed for analysis. A variety of vortex structures was observed, although the most likely form of the wake in slow forward flight is a series of distinct vortex rings.
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