A new study sheds light on how mosquitoes manage to fly breaking all the norms of flapping wings, and could inspire future aerodynamic innovations, including micro-scale flying tech. As Stuart McDill reports.
A mosquito caught in flight - no mean technical feat It's the work of a team of scientists from Oxford University and the Royal Veterinary College - collaborating to try to solve one of natures great mysteries - how mosquitoes fly Dr Simon Walker of Oxford's Animal Flight Group using eight super-high speed cameras shooting at 10,000 frames a second - to study the insects secret SOUNDBITE (English) DR SIMON WALKER, RESEARCH FELLOW, UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD, SAYING: "So normally to record an insect you need at least two cameras, ideally more, so you've got enough views of an insect because with two camera views you can then take any point on an insect and calculate its 3D co-ordinates. But because of the problems with the antennae and the legs we ended up needing to use eight cameras just to ensure that at any point in time we had enough camera views of the mosquito where we can actually see its wings clearly." The footage allowed analysis of the extraordinary wing motion - flapping at eight hundred beats per second - and generating lift unlike any other insect SOUNDBITE (English) DR SIMON WALKER, RESEARCH FELLOW, UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD, SAYING: "So mosquitoes use three aerodynamic tricks in order to support their body weight. The first of these is a leading edge vortex which is actually used by pretty much all insects but mosquitos actually have a much lower reliance on it than other species. The second two are a trailing edge vortex and rotational drag and these last two are novel to mosquitos and they both rely on the really subtle, precise rotations of the wing at the end of each wing beat." The team believes the technique could inspire innovative designs for micro-scale flying devices in future. SOUNDBITE (English) DR SIMON WALKER, RESEARCH FELLOW, UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD, SAYING: "Any of these small drones you can buy, which are normally quadcopters, they work really well when you fly them inside but as soon as you take them outside and there's the hint of a breeze or any gusts they tend to fall out of the sky or at least be very, very hard to control. Insects on the other hand deal really, really well with even quite windy conditions. So understanding how they can do this is going to be advantageous to us in the future." Walker hopes a better understanding of mosquito flight will helps us understand how they carry disease and eventually how to stop them.