Escaping blood-fed malaria mosquitoes minimize tactile detection without compromising on take-off speed

F.T. Muijres*, S.W. Chang, W.G. van Veen, J. Spitzen, B.T. Biemans, M.A.R. Koehl, R. Dudley

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

29 Citations (Scopus)


To escape after taking a blood meal, a mosquito must exert forces sufficiently high to take off when carrying a load roughly equal to its body weight, while simultaneously avoiding detection by minimizing tactile signals exerted on the host’s skin. We studied this trade-off between escape speed and stealth in the malaria mosquito Anopheles coluzzii using 3D motion analysis of high-speed stereoscopic videos of mosquito take-offs and aerodynamic modeling. We found that during the push-off phase, mosquitoes enhanced take-off speed using aerodynamic forces generated by the beating wings in addition to leg-based push-off forces, whereby wing forces contributed 61% of the total push-off force. Exchanging leg-derived push-off forces for wing-derived aerodynamic forces allows the animal to reduce peak force production on the host’s skin. By slowly extending their long legs throughout the push-off, mosquitoes spread push-off forces over a longer time window than insects with short legs, thereby further reducing peak leg forces. Using this specialized take-off behavior, mosquitoes are capable of reaching take-off speeds comparable to those of similarly sized fruit flies, but with weight-normalized peak leg forces that were only 27% of those of the fruit flies. By limiting peak leg forces, mosquitoes possibly reduce the chance of being detected by the host. The resulting combination of high take-off speed and low tactile signals on the host might help increase the mosquito’s success in escaping from blood-hosts, which consequently also increases the chance of transmitting vector-borne diseases, such as malaria, to future hosts.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3751-3762
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number20
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Aerodynamics
  • Biomechanics
  • Flight behavior
  • Insect
  • Take-off maneuvers
  • Wingbeat kinematics
  • 017-4038


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