Magazine article Science News

How a Mosquito Survives in Rain: Insects Ride Drops Downward Then Depart before the Splat

Magazine article Science News

How a Mosquito Survives in Rain: Insects Ride Drops Downward Then Depart before the Splat

Article excerpt

A raindrop hitting a mosquito in flight is like a midair collision between a human and a bus. Except the mosquito survives.

New experiments show how the insect's light weight works in its favor, says engineer David Hu of the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. In essence, the (relatively) huge, fast drop doesn't transfer much of its momentum to a little wisp of an insect. Instead the falling droplet sweeps the insect along on the downward plunge. As Hu puts it, the mosquito "just rides the drop."

The trick is breaking away from that drop before it and the insect splash onto the ground. Mosquitoes that separate themselves in time easily survive a raindrop strike, Hu and his colleagues report June 19 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Such studies help reveal how animals evolved to take advantage of flight, says biologist Tyson Hedrick of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Mosquito tricks may also inspire engineers designing swarms of tiny flying robots, or be of interest to physicists studying complex fluid dynamics at this scale.

Plenty of lab work has investigated how flying animals recover from disturbances.

But there's little work on raindrops, as those collisions are hard to study. To mimic a raindrop speed of about 9 meters per second, Hu and colleagues tried dripping water off the third floor of a building toward ground-level mosquitoes. "It's the worst game of darts you can imagine," he says. "You have no hope of hitting them. …

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