Sharks, dolphins and butterflies swim and fly in different flow regimes, yet the structure of their surfaces interacting with the surrounding fluid all appear to contain very important microscopic features that lead to reduced drag and increased flying or swimming efficiency. Sharks have moveable scales (approximately 200 microns in size) that act as a passive, flow-actuated dynamic roughness for separation control. Water tunnel experiments with real shortfin mako shark skin samples mounted to models have shown significant control of flow separation in both laminar and turbulent boundary layer scenarios. Dolphins have sinusoidal-shaped millimeter-sized transverse grooves covering a large percentage of their body. Experiments show that similar geometries embedded in a turbulent boundary layer can lead to separation control at the slight expense of increased friction drag. Alternatively, butterfly scales (100 microns in size covering the wings in a roof shingle pattern) appear to fundamentally alter the local skin friction drag depending on flow orientation for what is dominantly a laminar boundary layer interacting with the wings. However, in this case the surface may also slow the growth and formation of the leading-edge vortex and these effects shown in experiments may help explain a mean decrease in climbing efficiency (joules per flap) of 37.8% for live butterflies once their scales were removed. An overview of these results is discussed for these three cases, bringing out the importance of finding solutions in nature for essential engineering problems.

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