Mosquito Flight

Mosquitoes are unusual fliers. Their wings are long and skinny, and they beat at around 700 strokes a second – incredibly quickly for their size. Examining how they move has uncovered some interesting mechanics. Despite their short stroke length, the mosquito generates a lot of lift on both its upstroke (when the wing is moving backward) and its downstroke (when the wing moves forward). Some features of the mosquito’s flight are highlighted in the images above. In the animation, blue indicates areas of low pressure and red indicates high pressure.

Like most flapping fliers, the mosquito generates a leading-edge vortex during its downstroke (and its upstroke). This vortex helps concentrate low pressure on the upward-facing wing surface, thereby creating lift. One of the things that makes the mosquito unique, however, is that it also creates trailing-edge vortices on both half-strokes. To do this, the mosquito rotates its wings precisely to catch the wake of its previous half-stroke. The flow gets trapped near the trailing edge of the wing and forms a vortex and low-pressure region. Like the leading-edge vortex, this low-pressure area on the upward-facing wing surface creates lift. For more secrets of mosquito flight, check out this video from Science or the original paper. (Image credit: R. Bomphrey et al., source)

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