Mosquitoes Ride the Rain

Unlike some other fliers, these insects don't dodge the drops.

If buses started dropping from the sky, you’d run for cover. So you might expect mosquitoes would do the same in a rainstorm, where comparatively enormous droplets hurtle toward them with a speed that would seemingly squash them. Yet they don’t dodge or weave to avoid collision. When a raindrop hits one of the insects, the two lock together, falling toward the ground until air pulls the watery missile away from the mosquito, which buzzes off unharmed. “It’s as if you had a kite caught in front of a motorcycle, and the tails were flapping in the wind and the wind eventually dragged it off the point of contact,” says David Hu, a Georgia Tech mechanical engineer and lead author of the study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Hu and colleagues filmed the adroit insects during an artificial rainstorm. “They get hit about once every 25 seconds,” he says. “But it didn’t dampen their movements as far as we could see.” Unlike some birds and bats, whose flight, research shows, is hindered by rain, mosquitoes go with the flow.

This story originally ran in the September-October 2012 issue as "Smooth Flight."