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Phys Biol. 2016 Aug 25;13(4):045002. doi: 10.1088/1478-3975/13/4/045002.

On the tensile strength of insect swarms.

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Department of Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania 16802, USA.


Collective animal groups are often described by the macroscopic patterns they form. Such global patterns, however, convey limited information about the nature of the aggregation as a whole. Here, we take a different approach, drawing on ideas from materials testing to probe the macroscopic mechanical properties of mating swarms of the non-biting midge Chironomus riparius. By manipulating ground-based visual features that tend to position the swarms in space, we apply an effective tensile load to the swarms, and show that we can quasi-statically pull single swarms apart into multiple daughter swarms. Our results suggest that swarms surprisingly have macroscopic mechanical properties similar to solids, including a finite Young's modulus and yield strength, and that they do not flow like viscous fluids.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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