On the face of it, mosquitoes shouldn’t be able to fly, because their entire angular wing sweep is only 40 degrees, less than half that of honey bees.
And while the wings beat rapidly, at a frequency of 800 Hz, their strokes are the shallowest of any known insect group.
Yet fly they can, and with devastating accuracy. Research led by Richard Bomphrey of London’s Royal Veterinary College has discovered exactly how.
In addition to generating lift through leading edge vortices – areas of low pressure at the front of the wing – the mosquitoes also make complementary vortices on wing trailing edges, and an additional type of lift mechanism generated by wing rotation.
Mosquitoes appear to be unique in utilising this mode of flying, and the evolutionary pressures that led to it remain unclear. The study was published in Nature Research.
Andrew Masterson is a former editor of Cosmos.
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