Authors: Christopher Noll, Sandra R Schachat, Dr. Kevin Boyce, and Dr. Jonathan Payne
Prior research on plant physiology has suggested that high leaf vein density, highly hierarchical vein networks, and other leaf structures allow for more efficient water transportation and higher productivity in angiosperms (Boyce & Zwieniecki, 2019). In a similar vein, winged paleopteran insects must also rely on their wing vein network to perform similar functions. Paleopteran insect wing veins allow for the transmission of hemolymph, oxygen, and sensory information to and from their wings (Wootton, 1992). Moreover, winged insects rely on their wing veins for much more than just nutritional and sensory information transport: wing veins may also provide a mechanical skeleton that both stiffens the wing (Wootton, 1992; Jongerius & Lentink, 2010; Rees, 1975) and hampers the propagation of wing fractures (Dirks & Taylor, 2012; Rajabi et al., 2015). The wing-stiffening and fracture-preventative functions of wing veins are especially crucial for longer-lived, predacious paleopteran insects like odonates that need to be mobile to catch their prey while preventing wing failure. Despite the beneficial aspects of prolific wing venation, wings with dense venation can become less flexible (Combes & Daniel, 2003) and may become heavier than their counterparts. As such, insect wing vein density (a measurement of how densely an insect’s wings are covered with veins) and its correlation with the insect’s wing length have important implications. The wing vein density of meganeurids is especially insightful in understanding how large paleopteran winged insects evolutionarily handled wing vein density trade-offs. Wing vein density correlations may also be able to provide additional insight into the lifestyles and wing use of Paleopteran insects (e.g., the difference in lifestyle and predatory behavior indicated by the wing vein density of odonates and ephemeropterids). Finally, wing vein density optimization is especially pertinent to the creation of larger micro-air vehicles with wings that are durable and long lasting.
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