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Why raindrops don't kill mosquitoes

  • mosquito_rain_black.jpg

    A mosquito collides with a raindrop in midair. (Georgia Institute of Technology/Tim Nowack)

  • mosquitoes_white.jpg

    Surprisingly, their tiny size only adds to their overall resilience, researchers found. (Georgia Institute of Technology/Tim Nowack)

A team of Georgia Tech researchers have uncovered the secret to how mosquitoes manage to survive rainstorms despite their tiny size.

A universal pest notorious for its potential to spread disease, mosquitoes often live in humid conditions -- but until now, no one has ever understood how they survive these conditions. How does a mosquito deal when splattered by a raindrop twice its size?

'We were hoping to see the bugs get splattered, like on your car windshield. The surprising thing is that they all survived.'

- Researcher David L. Hu

“We think of these things as pests,” David L. Hu, one of the team’s researchers, told FoxNews.com. “So we were hoping to see the bugs get splattered, like on your car windshield. We thought the drops would just smash them in midair.”

Instead, the insects proved remarkably resilient. “The surprising thing is that they all survived,” Hu said.

Since studying them in the wild proved a near impossible endeavor given their size, Hu and his colleagues used high-speed cameras to film Anopheles mosquitoes flying in an acrylic cage exposed to a water jet that simulated rainfall.

“They’re the model organism,” Hu conceded.

As it turns out, their size doesn’t make them more vulnerable; it actually enhances their ability to deal with rain. When a raindrop hits a mosquito, it loses only 10 percent of its speed since the insect is so lightweight, versus 90 percent for dragonflies, meaning they absorb much more force.

“It’s like having a boxing match with a balloon,” Hu told FoxNews.com. “You just can’t pop it no matter how hard you hit it.”

Beyond its size, Hu and his team noted other genetic traits that increased the insect's aerial robustness. Thanks to a matte of hair that covers the whole of the insect’s body, mosquitoes are naturally hydrophobic, meaning they repel water, further reducing the amount of impact.

Hu hope their research could eventually help those in malaria infested regions of the world, as well as helping to improve the design of insect-sized flying robots.