Architecture of the Dragonfly Wing

Maria Mingallon who graduated from the AA and its currently a professor at McGill University, along with students Jheny Nieto, Sakthivel Ramaswamy and Konstantinos Karatzas, study the architectural applications of the dragonfly wing. Videos, more images and potential architectural applications included in the rest of the post.

In the words of the team “the morphology of the dragonfly wing is an optimal natural construction via a complex patterning process, developed through evolution as a response to force flows and material organization. The wing achieves efficient structural performance through a nonlinear variation of pattern, corrugations and varied material properties throughout the structure.”

Below is an excellent diagram showing how the dragonfly wing is divided into various shape areas that are designed to handle force very differently, quadrilateral, pentagonal and hexagonal.

The team explains that the seemingly random variation in the natural pattern of the wings were in fact optimized to allow rigid and flexible configurations along the span of the wings that allow for a logic based use of ambient energy for the purposes of flight.

Based on the above diagram the general geometrical conclusions arrived at by the team were as follows:

1. The patterns of the wings follow the general tensile forces exhibit on the wing
2. The various shapes carry the responsibility of determining the amount of stiffness or flexibility in that area of the wing.

For example the quadrilateral areas on the edges determine the more rigid and stiff portions of the wing while the largely compartmentalized hexagonal areas are responsible for the areas more likely to bend and sway. Furthermore, connections between the cells also determined the degree to which adjacent cells were free to bend, that was also highlighted in the research:

“Two main types of joints occur in the dragonfly wings, mobile and immobile. Some longitudinal veins are elastically joined with cross veins, whereas other longitudinal veins are firmly joined with cross veins. Scanning electron microscopy reveals a range of flexible cross-vein and main-vein junctions in the wing, which allows local deformations to occur. The occurrence of resilin, a rubber-like protein, in mobile joints enables the automatic twisting mechanism of the leading edge.”

After understanding these various characteristics of the wing that could be applied to structural design elsewhere the students began to model their findings and ran various test deforming the meshes and analyzing the responses. Below is a video demonstrating.

The interesting part of all biomimetic research are its potential applications to the field, the next excerpt is a summary from the team expressing how they feel their research can be applied to construction techniques.

“Specialization of different areas for support and deformability is nearly universal in insect wings. These properties present to us an interesting field of research on structures that could change constantly, but retain their equilibrium through a complex geometrical logic. Buildings can be envisaged as envelopes made of complex flexible foils, abstracting the geometrical logic of the dragonfly wings. The property of rigid quadrangular geometry and a more flexible polygonal geometry could be used to build a surface…the experiment was focused on deriving the different morphologies that could be obtained by passive deformation under uniformly applied loads. The distribution of constrain points within the grid follows a similar logic to that of the dragonfly wing, in which the mobile and immobile joints are distributed in order to enable corrugation in a particular direction.”

More images below from the various tests run on the model. We will also be posting about Maria’s recent thesis project with AA as well. A truly exciting proposal. stay tuned.


maria just released her book on her thesis project, check it out: Fibre Adaptive Composite Systems


  1. Thomas ROSSI /Reply

    Yeah, very cool !
    We can see very well the rigid parts of the fly, and their use. The fly have a very elegant and optimized air penetration.

    Very interesting study!

  2. Pingback: Fiber Composite Adaptive Architecture «

    1. Ehsaan Mesghali /Reply

      as far as modeling and alghorithmic form generation go rhino is used accompanied by grasshopper. various simulation softwares are used that are primarily engineering based. i will ask some of our contributors and let you know.

  3. Wassim /Reply

    Hey Ehsaan…Tat would be great !!! Thank u for ur kind help….Actually i am looking for simulating structure of the insect wings !!! Waitin for ur reply

  4. Maria Mingallon /Reply

    Hi Wassim,

    The software packages used were Rhino and the plug in Grasshopper. The structural analysis was carried out using Arup inhouse software package Oasys GSA. Unfortunately I do not think GSA is available for external users, but I do believe Strand 7 is quite similar to GSA and much easier to use than ANSYS, Katia and other FEM softwares mostly used for the design of vehicles and other industrial applications.

    Hope the above helps!

    Best Regards,

  5. Wassim /Reply

    Hi Maria and Ehsaan,

    That was helpfull indeeed.Thanks a lot. I will get back to you guys when i am stranded somewhere.


  6. Mohammad /Reply

    Strand is a light software for sure. I have Strand 7 and it’s only 35 Mb (it has a wonderful easy “how to us” manual!)! on the other hand ABAQUS which also supports Phyton scripting (a good link for ALgorithmic work) is 1.5 Gb!! and that shows how strand covers most of the FEA features with such a size! I sometimes import my grasshopper works to Sap2000 (Convert it to .dxf ) but Sap2000 is weak in visualization even if it is user friendly! I,m getting interested in the Oasys Software as I have seen several works done by Arup . Some people work with the most rough alternative which is GC (Bentley Generative components) to STAAD which GC algorithms are really hard to work with!


    Good morning: I very much like your wing model. From a biological perspective, the forward wing not only pushes air moelecules down, but drags such on the back of the wing. As the wing ‘rolls over,’ it passes on slightly higher temmperature molecules back to the rear wing on it’s descent, providing more ‘active’ molecules wanting to naturally rise. This ‘rolling over and passing on to the downward thrust’ wastes nothing. So efficient and yet, so beautiful.


  8. zhihong /Reply

    I am from Nanjing University of science and technology. we are also doing a project about the dragonfly wing. Your dragonfly model is very good. but I’d like to know your model is 2D or 3D? We have also get the vibration modal pattern for real dragonfly wings,but it is differnt from your solution as shown above. I wish we can exchange each other and share the research achievement

    thank you!
    zhihong xu

  9. narasimham /Reply

    Of absorbing interest.

    The tip of the dragonfly wing executes a figure of 8. There is structural coupling between extension and bending ensured by dragonfly twisting wing’s network of rectangles and hexagons, its unbalanced ply reinforcement and orientation. The destruction caused by Tacoma Narrows Bridge (which was built to fly rather than remain in place 🙂 ) can be now put to use in bio mimic flight. Birds do the same with less frequency and twist.Vibration phase portraits with quick return leave positive energy balance for work against gravity.

    I believe a realistic flexible wing can be made to get Lift Coefficient 3.0 or thereabouts using elastomeric resin, carbon fibers laid by hand and cured.

    Wishing you best of luck.

    Narasimham G.L.

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