Swatting often does not work, because mosquitoes can surf
Mosquitoes were already notorious for their annoying buzzing when you want to sleep, the irritating mosquito bites they can leave behind, and of course, the spread of malaria. And now research by Antoine Cribellier, a biomechanic specialist from Wageningen, shows that the primary defense of humans, swatting, is also very ineffective.
In his thesis, which was awarded with distinction (cum laude) at Wageningen University, Cribellier shows among other things that human attempts to kill mosquitoes are a pleasure rather than a discomfort. They use the resulting air pressure to surf to safety. The harder you hit, the faster they go.
“So when you swat a mosquito, you’re helping it get away,” Cribellier explained to the Wageningen University journal Resource. “And that’s not even very surprising. There is a reason why a fly swatter has a meshed surface. This is to limit the displacement of air.”
It’s good to know, but there’s not much we can do with it in practice, he acknowledges. “It is hard to drum up ideas that make use of the airflow. But we gain something by knowing that the airflow plays such an important role in the escape.”
The hole-in-the-air conclusion is a by-product of Cribellier’s research, which was primarily aimed at existing mosquito traps—in which mosquitoes are lured in by a sort of fake human being—and making them more effective. He says he has been very successful in the latter.
Its improved mosquito trap, M-tego, looks even more like a human victim than older models due to the diffusion of warmth and humidity. “Even without added warmth and humidity, nearly three times more mosquitoes were trapped. And with these added signals, it catches nearly five times as many as the old model. Video recording shows that the mosquitoes are attracted to the trap’s edges more effectively and remain there longer. The trap appears to be more attractive and therefore more effective.”