On the tensile strength of insect swarms

Rui Ni, Nicholas T. Ouellette

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number045002
JournalPhysical Biology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 25 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biophysics
  • Structural Biology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology


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