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UCL Culture Blog


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Angels, fairies and dragons revisited: Did putti fly like bumblebees?

By Jack Ashby, on 30 April 2014

In 2011 our 15th Annual Robert Grant Lecture was given by UCL’s Professor Roger Wotton. It was called Zoology and mythology: looking at angels, fairies and dragons¬†and explored the biological plausibility of these creatures based on their representations in art. Prof Wotton dissected (not literally, obviously) the anatomy that would be required for angels, fairies and dragons to fly. The lecture was amusing and illuminating – and we wrote about it at the time.

Now, on his blog, Roger has returned to the subject to investigate something he couldn’t fit into the lecture – putti. Putti are the porky little naked boys with tiny wings. Many people might (inaccurately) call them cherubs. In his whimsical yet biological account, Wotton says…

It is only possible to speculate on how putti fly, although their naked, often chubby bodies indicate that the generation of sufficient temperature is not a problem. However, the size of their wings means that large volumes of air need to be displaced rapidly and this can only be achieved by exceedingly rapid wing beats. So rapid that the tip of the wing will move at supersonic speed and feathers would likely be ripped to pieces.

The article compares putti to bumblebees, as they also have little wings perched on the back of a rotund little body. It’s well worth a read and can be found on Roger Wotton’s blog “Natural History, Creation and Religious Conflicts“.

Jack Ashby is the Manager of the Grant Museum of Zoology.

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