Obscura Day 2017! Join our global celebration of exploration and discovery.
May 6

The Strange Way Mosquitoes Fly

And still annoy you.

How do you fly, little guy?
How do you fly, little guy? CDC Global/CC BY 2.0

Mosquitoes are one of nature’s most annoying creations, and also one that we are still learning about. In fact, we weren’t even actually sure quite how they get off the ground until just this week, when a newly-released paper revealed tests showing that have shed some light on their bizarre wing movement.

Given the size and shape of a mosquito, they shouldn’t really be able to fly the way they do. A paper published Wednesday in Nature revealed that instead of flapping their wings the same way a similarly-sized insect like a bumblebee might, mosquitoes twist their wings while they flap, creating a mini-vortex to keep them in the air.

In addition, the arcs their wings trace is also surprisingly small, covering just 44 degrees in each flap (an article on Quartz compares this to the 180 degrees of a butterfly’s flap). Because of this, mosquitoes have to move their wings incredibly fast to achieve lift. To quote the SCIENCE from the Nature paper, “their long, slender wings flap at remarkably high frequencies for their size (>800 Hz) and with lower stroke amplitudes than any other insect group.” It’s also this speed that gives them their telltale buzzing sound.

This discovery has an impact on the study of aerodynamics and insect biology, but unfortunately does nothing to make mosquitoes more tolerable.