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Scientists Uncover Mystery of Mosquito Flight

Anopheles gambiae mosquito, which spreads the malaria parasite
Anopheles gambiae mosquito, which spreads the malaria parasite
Scientists Uncover Mystery of Mosquito Flight
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The mosquito is a troublesome and sometimes dangerous insect. Their bites itch and can carry dangerous diseases, like malaria, Zika virus and yellow fever.

Recently, researchers from Britain and Japan discovered how mosquitoes fly. This knowledge, they say, help find ways to stop mosquitoes from spreading diseases in the future.

Mosquito wings are small and have an uncommon shape. Because of this, it is hard to believe that they are able to fly. So, how is their flight possible?

The team of scientists from Britain and Japan solved the mystery. They used high-speed cameras and computer images to understand the mechanics of how the insect moves its wings to stay in the air.

Researchers at the University of Oxford took images of mosquito wing movements. They set up eight super-high speed cameras that take 10,000 images each second.

Simon Walker is a researcher at the University of Oxford.

"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 3-D coordinates."

Mosquitoes can spread diseases including malaria and Zika virus.
Mosquitoes can spread diseases including malaria and Zika virus.

The insect has two antennae, or tall, thin organs on its head that it uses to feel things. But its antennae and six legs make it difficult to take clear images of the wing movements. So, the team needed to use eight cameras to view the wings from many directions.

The extra cameras let the researchers see that the mosquito's wings move eight hundred times each second. That is four times faster than many insects of a similar size.

Mosquitoes fly by moving their wings in several different directions.

The thin top edges of their wings move forward first and then they reverse direction and move down. The movement looks almost as if the wings are drawing the number eight.

The research team believes the mosquitoes’ wing movements could help inventors design new flying devices.

Walker says that existing unmanned flying devices – or drones – do not work very well outside because wind can affect their flight.

"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."

These researchers say that, more importantly, understanding how mosquitoes fly might help find ways to stop them from spreading diseases.

I'm Alice Bryant.

Deborah Block reported this story for VOA News. Alice Bryant adapted it for Learning English. Mario Ritter was the editor.


Words in This Story

itch - v. to have or produce an unpleasant feeling on your skin or inside your mouth, nose, etc. that makes you want to scratch

wing - n. a part of an animal's body that is used for flying or gliding

calculate - v. to find a number or answer by using mathematical processes

3D - adj. made in a way that causes an image to appear to be three-dimensional

coordinate - n. one of a set of numbers that is used to locate a point on a map or graph

reverse - v. to change to an opposite direction or state

unmanned - adj. not carrying a person

drone - n. a kind of aircraft that does not carry a pilot or passengers

advantageous - adj. helpful or favorable