APR 09, 2017 8:37 AM PDT

The Mystery Behind How Mosquitoes Fly

WRITTEN BY: Anthony Bouchard

Just because an animal or insect has wings, it doesn’t mean that they can fly. But mosquitoes are just one of the many kinds of insects that are gifted with the ability to lift themselves from solid ground and fly somewhere else.

Mosquitoes fly in a very odd way that scientists have never seen in any animal before.

Image Credit: Makamuki0/Pixabay

On the other hand, mosquitoes fly in a unique way that scientists say no other animal on Earth appears to replicate. Their wings move in an incredibly limited and shallow beat, covering just 44º of span with each beat, which is “less than half the smallest amplitude yet measured for any hovering animal.” Compared to other insects, this number is simply unmatched.

Related: Florida residents are unsure about mosqutio control efforts

Nevertheless, they appear to have no problem flying; so, what’s the secret? That’s what a study published in the journal Nature hoped to find out.

By recording numerous mosquitoes with high-speed cameras, scientists were able to observe their wingbeats at 10,000 frames per second. This allowed them to see their wing movement patterns in unprecedented detail.

Without the help of these high-speed cameras, we’d never be able to see the movement of a mosquito wing, which flaps at approximately 800 times per second.

The camera work showed how mosquitoes actually rotate their wings a certain way with each wingbeat, which allows them to stay aloft. This motion creatures a force known as rotational drag, which acts on their air around the insect and allows it to stay put in the air.

Interestingly, each wingbeat isn’t without its own sector of physics. There are leading and trailing end vortices, which suggests that each wingbeat creates its own whirlwind of pressure that then helps the rotational drag take place.

The pitch angle of the wings, the speed at which they are flapping, and the size of the wing play a critical role in how the mosquito is able to fly unlike any other creature on Earth. After all, most other creatures have an 80º span or more that the wings have to travel to keep them suspended in the air.

Related: Will a mosquito bite you? It depends on their genetics

At the rate of speed that each wingbeat endures, and with so much going on with each wingbeat, the mosquito’s flight method is certainly baffling to say the least. In fact, researchers are going as far as to say that no other animal appears to fly in this manner, suggesting we’re looking at a completely new method of flight here.

Source: Ars Technica

About the Author
  • Fascinated by scientific discoveries and media, Anthony found his way here at LabRoots, where he would be able to dabble in the two. Anthony is a technology junkie that has vast experience in computer systems and automobile mechanics, as opposite as those sound.
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