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What Makes Mosquitoes So Good at Avoiding Detection?

It sneaks up on you, inserts its needle-like proboscis into your skin, and loads up on blood. By the time you figure out that you’ve been bitten, the mosquito has made a stealthy getaway. How do they do it? University researchers in Berkeley, California, and the Netherlands used high-speed cameras to see how mosquitoes escape, even when weighed down by a belly full of blood. Observing Anopheles coluzzii mosquitoes, the scientists figured out the insects' modus operandi: They flap their wings for 30 milliseconds before jumping into the air. Then they beat their wings extremely quickly, as much as 800 times per second -- about four times faster than other flying insects.

Bearers of bad news:

  • "They push off so softly that you can never detect them," says Florian Muijres, the study's lead author. "It's a very challenging thing to do."
  • The study's results may be useful for managing mosquito-borne illnesses in the future. Mosquitoes can carry diseases like malaria, West Nile virus, and Zika.
  • Mosquitoes are now a problem in Puerto Rico, where Hurricane Maria left behind pools of stagnant water that turned the U.S. territory into a mosquito paradise.
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