How a mosquito flies and flirts in unison could lead to quieter drones

8 Nov 2019135 Views

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The aerial dance that a mosquito does to attract a potential mate could inspire new quieter drones and other breakthroughs.

What makes the mosquito such an effective spreader of malaria and other diseases lies within the power of its wings. Not only are they used for flight, but the sound they make is crucial to attracting a mate and increasing mosquito populations.

Now, in a paper published to Bioinspiration and Biomimetics, researchers from Johns Hopkins University have discovered that this very sound could inspire engineers to create much quieter drones.

Their study analysed the aerodynamics of mosquito wings using computer modelling and showed that everything about mosquitoes seems perfectly adapted for accomplishing this sound-based communication.

“Thus, understanding the strategies and adaptations employed by insects such as mosquitoes to control their aeroacoustic noise could eventually provide insights into the development of quiet drones and other bio-inspired micro-aerial vehicles,” the researchers wrote.

Computer modelling of a mosquito's wings in flight.

Complex streamlines generated by the flapping wing of a mosquito in flight. Image: Rajat Mittal

Why it sounds annoying

Not only could their work help create quieter drone motors, but the researchers said it could lead to the development of non-toxic ways of disrupting mosquito breeding to lower populations. The key, they said, is in finding the right frequency.

With a high-frequency buzzing sound, the male mosquito attempts to connect with the low-frequency hum of a female. To achieve this, the mosquito flaps its long, slender wings at a high frequency while also rapidly rotating them with each stroke.

This is why that annoying, shrill sound occurs right before a female bites a human as it is trying to send a message to a male mosquito’s antennae. Unlike other flying insects, the mosquito has essentially found a way to fly and flirt at the same time.

“The wing tones as well as the aerodynamic forces for flight are highly directional and mosquitoes need to simultaneously control both for the successful completion of a mate-chase,” they wrote.

Rajat Mittal, one of the researchers, added: “At the right frequency the mosquitoes have a hard time flying and can’t complete their mating ritual.”

Colm Gorey is a journalist with Siliconrepublic.com

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