Despite their diminutive size, mosquitoes can be very dangerous because of the diseases they carry. Some mosquito-borne diseases can be deadly, including Zika virus, yellow fever, and malaria. This is why it’s so important to take precautions to avoid mosquito bites.
Because of the dangers they pose, much research has focused on mosquito life history. Recently, researchers have looked into the flight of mosquitoes instead. It seems they are not only dangerous but also pretty aerodynamic.
In a 2017 study, experts investigated the patterns of mosquito wing motions to learn more about how they fly. One major point of interest was how the insects gained the lift required to fly. Researchers used high-speed video cameras, computer models, and advanced image technology to learn about mosquito flight.
The scientists found that despite mosquito wings’ small size, they work efficiently. Mosquito wings are longer and thinner than the wings of other similarly sized insects. This means mosquitoes must use a different technique than other flying insects in their size class.
In fact, mosquito wings beat nearly 800 times per second. That’s about four times faster than other small insects. It is this speed that generates the whining sound many of us have heard when mosquitoes are nearby.
Speed is not the only method mosquitoes use to give them the lift they need to take off. When other insects fly, they use leading-edge and trailing-edge vortices.
Their wings generate two separate air flows around the top (leading edge) and bottom (trailing edge) of the wings. The air flow around the top pulls up, amplifying lift. Mosquitoes use a stronger trailing-edge vortex and another technique called rotational drag. Wings rotate during flight. As a mosquito’s wing rotates down during a forward stroke, it pushes the air under it down.
This creates suction at the top of the wing (much like a leading-edge vortex). This suction strengthens lift.
The process that mosquitoes use may be unique. Scientists don’t know if other insects use it. It is certainly very effective, and scientists believe that we could learn from it. Studies into mosquitoes mainly focus on disease prevention. However, we could learn a lot from studying mosquito flight. It could help engineers design drones, for example.