On February 8th, 2018 we learned about

Ancient arachnid appears to be an amalgam of spiders and scorpions

Arachnids have apparently been experimenting with limbs for the last 400 million years. While modern arachnids’ eight legs may seem weird enough, what we live with today is relatively tame compared to what was scuttling around during the Mesozoic era. Specimens recovered from ancient amber have revealed other offshoots of the arachnid family tree, some of which are almost an amalgam of spiders and scorpions, complete with long, whip-like tails. There’s no evidence that those tails delivered venom, but it does give us a better sense of the wide spectrum of spidery creatures that left us with the arachnids we know today.

The latest specimen has been named Chimerachne yingi, as it’s body looks like it combines features from both spiders and scorpions. Like it’s modern kin, the “chimera spider” sported eight legs, as well as function, silk-producing spinnerets. These critical organs are actually highly specialized limbs, and weren’t present on older arachnid ancestors. Combined with an age of 100 million years, C. yingi is probably one of the closest relatives to modern spiders ever found, even though it’s not thought to be a direct ancestor of what lives today.

Defined by differences

This is where C. yingi’s differences become relevant. Its exoskeleton is structured more like a scorpion than a true spider, with segmented plates along its abdomen that would have made its rear end more flexible. Even more dramatically, C. yingi sported a tail longer than its tiny, 0.07-inch body. That tail was thin and probably fairly flexible, evolved from yet another limb structure. It probably didn’t get used like a scorpion’s tail though, as researchers suspect it acted more like a rear-mounted antenna, allowing arachnid to probe its surroundings. Like other specific behavior, this can’t be completely confirmed from the specimen trapped in amber, but the overall structure looks more like a sensory tool than any kind of weapon or leg.

In the end, C. yingi wasn’t technically a spider. It was classified as an uraraneid, which was an order of arachnids that likely diverged from the modern spider lineage hundreds of millions of years ago. Their common ancestor likely sported the signature limbs and spinnerets, possibly along with tails too. It’s thought that the arachnids that eventually became our modern spiders must have then lost their shared tail and solidified their abdomens, diverging from both the uraraneids and arachnids like scorpions. So while this tailed creature wasn’t a direct relative of today’s spiders, its unusual anatomy is still helping us understand how spiders evolved.

Source: Part spider, part scorpion creature captured in amber by Elizabeth Pennisi, Science

On January 31st, 2018 we learned about

Argentine ants’ advanced chemical weaponry may improve insecticides used against them

As countless action movies have taught us, one of the best tactics to defeat an unstoppable adversary is to use their strengths against them. When those adversaries are invasive Argentine ants, it’s hard to immediately throw their abilities back at them. For instance, it’s unlikely that we could convince one of a colony’s multiple queens to suddenly assassinate her sisters. Similarly, it’s not clear how we might convince neighboring Argentine ant colonies to suddenly become competitive with each other. However, the way these ants fight native species may finally be providing an opening, as the chemicals they use in an attack might soon be used against them.

Argentine ants (Linepithema humile) are smaller than many other ant species, but that doesn’t stop them from engaging in combat. When taking on something like a Californian harvester ant (Pogonomyrmex barbatus), the Argentine ants will engage in what’s known as gaster bending, wherein they dab their gaster, or abdomen, against their foe’s body. Upon contact, they secrete a mix of compounds, including dolichodial and iridomyrmecin, which have been confirmed to cause irritation and disorientation in the recipient. Even more importantly, these secretions attract other Argentine ants to the fight so that they can overwhelm the native ant in a larger attack. While researchers aren’t about to start dabbing Argentine ants with their own secretions, the fact that these compounds call in more ants may prove useful in the production of bait hydrogels.

Building better bait

Unlike the hapless harvester ants, humans have two ways to fight Argentine ants, both of which involve poisoning them. Insecticides can be sprayed in an area, and can be effective for a length of time on various surfaces. However, they can also end up leaching into water supplies and harming other animals. A more discrete option is then baiting, where a poison is mixed into an attractive substance, like sugar water, for the ants to eat and carry back to their colony. The poison is slow to take effect, allowing it to be shared with a greater number of ants before they start dying off. The best baits come in the form of hydrogels, which resemble small, gelatinous pellets, and remain potent for longer periods of time while requiring smaller doses of poison.

Naturally, bait only works if it’s attractive to the target. One way to heighten the allure of toxic hydrogel pellets is to add ant pheromones to the mix, which attracted more ants, and thus performed 32 percent better than “unscented” controls. That’s impressive on its one, but the secretions from battling Argentine ants may be even better. In addition to attracting more ants, the fact that the dolichodial and iridomyrmecin also irritates native species would help avoid accidental poisonings of the wrong ant. Even though the ants use these secretions to target their competition, it looks like it may do a great job of targeting Argentine ants as well.

The importance of the invasion

At this point, Argentine ants have spread to many parts of the world. The problem is that as an invasive species, none of their new ecosystems have any way to keep them in check. While they generally don’t attack each other, as Argentine ants drive out native species they essentially break the ecosystem- important duties that native species previously carried out, like pollination, don’t get done. The fact that Argentine ants also preserve pests like aphids in order to harvest their ‘honeydew’ makes them an even bigger problem, which is why there’s so much research looking for ways to control, or at least curb, their world domination.

My four-year-old said: I feel sad for the other ants.  I don’t like these ants! They’re bad… I guess they’re good for the aphids though, and ladybugs eat those.

Source: For global invasion, Argentine ants use chemical weapons by University of California - Riverside, Phys.org

On January 16th, 2018 we learned about

The wolf, pirate and pelican spiders that prey upon their eight-legged peers

Going by the numbers, it may spiders seem to have a particular vendetta against insects. After all, eating up to 800 million tons of bugs every year takes some dedication, or at least some well-honed predatory adaptations. As it turns out, eating only bugs would leave a lot of other food on the table, such as spiders themselves, and so some species have diversified their diets. As great as spiders are at catching crickets and ants, it turns out that they’re great at hunting their fellow arachnids as well.

Speedy stalkers

On the generalist side of things, wolf spiders will eat just about anything they can get a hold of— even small vertebrates. Instead of waiting in a web, spiders in the Lycosidae family travel along the ground or in burrows to hunt for prey while trying to avoid being eaten themselves. Some wolf spiders can be slightly strategic in how they hide and ambush their food, but for the most part they get by on speed and a bit of stealth.

Home invaders

Cellar spiders, often known as daddy long-legs, use more traditionally “spidery” tactics to catch their food. Their messy, tangled webs can catch a variety of insects, but they’ll also venture into other spiders’ webs to attack its original occupant. Their long, spindly legs help them move quickly over both their own and other spiders’ silk, giving them an edge when they feel like dining on arachnid.

Pelican impalers

Eriauchenius and Madagascarchaea spiders are a bit more specialized for picking off other spiders. Known more commonly as pelican spiders, these unusual predators have long “necks” and even longer chelicerae, the fang-tipped mouthparts that are much more modestly sized on other species. The combination of an elevated mouth and long chelicerae lets these spiders impale and hoist their prey off the ground like a hungry forklift, trapping prey in the air until they finally die. Specimens found in amber show that this lineage has been using this immobilizing strategy for at least 50 million years. They can be found in South Africa, Australia, and Madagascar, with the latter location being home to half the species alive today.

Pirate raiders

Pirate spiders in the family Mimetidae don’t have any special hook or peg-leg anatomy, as their names comes from the range of behaviors they use to acquire food. Rather than build their own webs, they search for other species’ webs to raid, usually starting with orb or cobweb weaver themselves. The pirate spider will first pluck at different threads in the web to imitate trapped prey in an attempt to lure the original spider into danger. Once in range, the pirate spider will lunge at its target, where a bite to the leg will immediately paralyze it’s meal thanks to the hunter’s spider-specific venom. Once the host spider is dispatched, the pirate may make use of the web to catch a few bugs as well, even eating other spiders’ eggs if it finds them.

This is by no means the complete list of spider-on-spider predation. For every specialized nest or venom, there’s probably another spider waiting for its next chance to eat some of its kin, assuming it doesn’t fill up on insects first.

Source: Who eats spiders? by Ben Goren, Spiderbytes

On January 10th, 2018 we learned about

The world’s oldest proboscis appears to predate the first flowering plants

It’s an odd question to have to ask, but what good is a drinking straw without a drink? A skinny tube, such as the long, nectar-sucking proboscis found on moths, flies and butterflies, is generally only used to obtain liquefied nourishment. In some cases, proboscises can be so specialized that they only work with specific flowers, which makes the discovery of some 200-million-year-old butterfly fossils quite mysterious. What would that ancient insect be eating if it evolved before the world’s first nectar-filled flower even existed?

The fossils in question were found in Germany, dug out of what was once an algae-covered bog. The low oxygen levels of that bog water helped preserve some amazingly delicate scaled wings off of what is now the oldest-known member of Lepidoptera, the group of insects that includes moths and butterflies. Aside from being tiny, the scales were hollow, requiring that they be removed from the surrounding soil with a “pick” tipped with a single human nose-hair to avoid damaging them.

From old wings to early diets

The structure of these scales was crucial to this study though, as it greatly narrowed what lineage this insect came from. Today, hollow scales are found in moths and butterflies in the suborder Glossata, a group also noted for their flexible probosices. When this anatomy is compared to the timeline of flowering plants, it becomes clear that this Triassic-aged butterfly had no nectar to drink anywhere, since the fossil record can only confirm the first flower’s existence 70 million years later.

So what does this say about the proboscis this insect probably had? There isn’t much evidence to work with, but the current hypotheses are that this early butterfly or moth was using its elongated mouth to hydrate itself in the Triassic’s arid climate, or pick sweet pollen out of sap. There’s precedent for the latter option, as kalligrammatid lacewings, an extinct line of insects that were the spitting image of a modern butterfly, were also thought to pick up pollen with their elongated mouthparts around 125 million years ago. Since there even flies toting proboscises of their own today, it seems that there has been an evolutionary advantage to elongated, flexible mouths for quite a long time.

My third-grader asked: How did they know it had a proboscis if they didn’t see its head?

It’s a guess, but a guess based on a number of types of evidence. Members of Glossata all have proboscises , and while the owner of these wing scales may have possibly bucked that trend, that anatomy is a defining feature of the group. It’s also not the only specimen that’s rewriting Lepidoptera’s origins. Another fossil from 190 million years ago was found in England, helping to establish that these insects were fairly well established by the Triassic period. This doesn’t mean that a better preserved fossil can’t overturn this hypothesis, but right now everything is pointing in that direction. At least until we find fossils from the true first flower, which may be even older than any of these bugs.

Source: 'Butterfly Tongues' Are More Ancient Than Flowers, Fossil Study Finds by Rebecca Hersher, NPR

On December 20th, 2017 we learned about

Spiny orb weaver spiders somehow survive 24 hour days with a weirdly short circadian rhythm

For billions of years, our world has rotated once every 24 hours, give or take. This helps distribute heat, makes photosynthesis viable in ever hemisphere, and has set the internal clocks in most animals’ bodies to operate on the same 24-hour cycle. Circadian rhythms could once be taken for granted, as the Sun was everyone’s clock, although modern artificial lighting and high-speed travel across time zones have revealed that there can be serious consequences for our brains and bodies when things are out of sync. In this context, scientists have been baffled as to why a spider, free of distracting media devices, would have evolved to be misaligned from the world around it.

When you look at a spiny orb weaver spider, you probably won’t notice how tired it must be. They’ve got a flashy exoskeleton, with black spots on a bright white abdomen, topped off with six red, conical protrusions that make it look like a cross between a Willy Wonka candy and alien. The conspicuous arachnids sit in the middle of their circular webs all day, somehow scaring off predators but not prey. Importantly, Allocyclosa bifurca and two close relatives spin a new web each morning, which was the first clue about their unusual sleep schedule.

Compensating for a fast internal clock

Detecting jet lag in a spider isn’t obvious from first glance. Researchers were studying spiny orb weaver behavior patterns when they happened to notice an odd pattern turning up in the timing of the spiders’ rest periods. Each day, they seemed to be operating on a shortened schedule, as if their internal clocks just didn’t operate on a 24 hour clock like most animals. After monitoring spider activity in total darkness to eliminate the influence of sunlight, researchers confirmed that spiny orb weavers physiology operates on 17.4 hour day, even though that basically meant they had to constantly deal with severe jet lag to catch up to the timing of the Sun.

This schedule should lead to a lot of chaos for the spiders, both physiologically and logistically. They usually become active around dusk, moving around at night and prepping their new web a few hours before dawn. They then sit motionless in their webs during the day, moving only when prey gets stuck in their webs. If allowed to operate on their natural cycle of a 17 hour day, their brains should drive them to start wiggling around when there are hours of daylight left. Possibly thanks to exposure to daylight, the spiders apparently fight this instinct, staying put in their webs until evening truly arrives.

Researchers now want to find out exactly what mechanism is letting the spiders make these daily adjustments to their schedules, and how they’re doing so without the health problems usually seen in other misaligned animals. Presumably, they’re relying on sunlight to tell their brains when the day ends, but there are still questions about how their brains handle the misalignment without signs of harm.

Source: These spiders may have the world’s fastest body clocks by Mariah Quintanilla, Science News

On December 12th, 2017 we learned about

DNA captures the story of Californian turret spiders’ self-imposed isolation

Turret spiders love their homes, or rather, they hate being outdoors. The small spiders are extremely sensitive to dehydration, and are thus basically trapped in their underground burrows to avoid the crisp air of California. While not actually sedentary, this fairly immobile lifestyle has turned the spiders into living records of the states geological and ecological past. By following where the turret spiders live, we can know what conditions in that area were like before any humans wrote anything down.

Never straying from the shade

All animals carry the genetic legacy of their ancestors’ environmental challenges, but turret spiders localize things even more than some creatures that are literally affixed to their homes. To avoid drying out, baby spiders avoid migration strategies, like ballooning, that let other species find new homes with less competition for resources. Instead, turret spiders will usually stick to the same shady, north-facing slope as their mother, building their burrow close enough to hers to often create a little cluster of turrets. This means that the spiders are probably competing for resources with their siblings to a certain degree, but apparently that beats a walk through the hot sun to find a more exclusive place to build their home.

The burrows themselves are similar to what trapdoor spiders use to capture their prey. However, instead of putting a door on the hole like their relatives, turret spiders use webbing, soil and leaf litter to build a little wall, extending their burrow’s entrance about an inch above ground level. When an insect disturbs that upper lip of the structure, the spider can crawl up to capture it. When clustered together, a group of turret spider burrows may even help each other, since it leaves prey very little space to maneuver safely.

When there’s no prey to capture, the spiders just sit at home. They can do this for a very long time, with male turret spiders living to be around six or seven years old before they finally venture out of their home to find a mate. That trip is generally fatal, even if they do find a mate in the immediate neighborhood. Females can reproduce without such dangerous repercussions though. They can sit in their homes for as long as 14 years without going anywhere, unless, of course, the local environment moves the spiders itself.

Recorded cases of relocation

Looking at the DNA of turret spider populations around California, researchers found that the spiders have diverged into at least eight species. Those species have other sub-groups as well, apparently thanks to how geography divided them up. When genetic relatives of spiders in Chico were found in Monterey, researcher knew that no turret spider walked that far. Instead, it’s suspected that those relatives were divided up by an ancient flood. These past events can work the other way as well— two groups of spiders living near each other by San Bruno Mountain show clear genetic differences, and were probably separated by geological features that have since eroded away, not that the spiders seem to have noticed.

These spider populations can inform us about the past in a way normally associated with fossils, owl pellets or some plant species. However, turret spiders can’t help out researchers everywhere, because they only live in California. Who needs more territory when your horizons are purposefully so tiny?

Source: And This Little Spider Stayed Home by David Lukas, Bay Nature

On November 28th, 2017 we learned about

Flying beetles found to swing their legs to tighten their turns

When a bird flies, it tucks its feet close to its body to avoid creating turbulence in the air around it. So do dragon flies. So do large aircraft, even if they’re tucking in wheels instead of feet. Flying beetles, on the other hand, seem to have missed the memo on aerodynamics, because they do the exact opposite, flying with their legs outstretched in all directions. This certainly creates drag, which is why scientists suspected that this akimbo posture must offer some other benefit to beetle flight, like maneuverability.

Turning while tethered

It seemed quite plausible that outstretched legs could play a role in beetle steering, but scientists couldn’t just ask them why they flew that way to get an explanation. To get around this, they simulated flight for a beetle, then watched as it responded to turning either left or right in the air. Insects don’t have the inner ear we do to detect motion, relying almost exclusively on visual stimuli to tell them how they’re moving through space. So a beetle could be glued to a fixed point, and as long as stripe patterns in front of it looked like they were panning to the right or left, the beetle thought it was actually zooming around enough to demonstrate how it uses its legs in a turn.

When “turning” left, the beetle would pull in its right leg, doing the opposite when the visuals were reversed. So instead of simply pretending to not have drag-inducing legs, the beetles apparently put their legs to work, creating a rotational force to change their trajectory. At least, that’s what it looked like the beetles wanted to do, because in this first test they weren’t actually moving. To see if they were actually affecting their rotational inertia with these leg twitches, the insects were untethered and allowed to actually fly.

Controlling cornering

To isolate the role of the beetle’s swinging legs, researchers implanted electrodes to actually take control of their legs’ muscle movement. That way they could trigger the previously seen leg motion on its own, without waiting for the beetle to initiate a turn that might involve other motion. As expected, the swinging legs made a difference in the insects’ flight path, with small turning motions initiated in less than a fifth of a second. They don’t turn with their legs alone, but swinging their legs lets them begin a maneuver faster than they could if using only their wings.

My four-year-old asked: What kind of beetles were they?

In this case, researchers were working with one of the biggest flower beetles in the world, Mecynorhina torquata, which can grow up to 3.3 inches long. The green-shelled natives of Africa are robust aviators, and have been used in a number of different studies, including one that allowed researchers to completely control their movement, effectively turning them into a remote controlled bug.

Source: Why Beetles Fly Like Superman by Jeremy Rehm, Scientific American

On October 29th, 2017 we learned about

Fungus forces beetles to become sexy zombies and spread its spores

This should be obvious, but don’t try to mate with zombies. Even “sexy” zombies doing their best to convince you they’d really like to have kids. You will have no offspring, zombified or otherwise, because the only organism that’s going to be reproducing is the fungus that turned your supposed mate into a zombie in the first place.

Eating flowers, fearing fungi

As outlandish as the above advice may sound, it’s a real concern for Goldenrod soldier beetles (Chauliognathus pensylvanicus). The beetles live in meadows across North America, eating flowers as their main source of food. Conveniently, they also mate on flowers, since it’s a good place to run into another beetle. Amorous females can advertise their intentions by waiting on a flower with their wings open and extended, almost like they’re about to fly away. Unfortunately for the beetles, spores for the Eryniopsis lampyridarum fungus can also be found on these flowers, which is what kicks off a cycle of zombification and unintentional necrophilia.

When the fungus infects a beetle, it triggers some very specific physiological responses to bend the beetle’s body to it’s own ends. The beetle will be compelled to climb to a flower top as it’s body starts to give out. Once in position, the fungus ensures that its host doesn’t just fall off the flower once it’s dead, by forcing it to clamp onto the flower tightly with it’s mandibles. The corpse is just a means to an end though, which is where the beetles’ courtship behavior comes into play.

Making brain-dead bugs more attractive

An inert beetle clamped to a flower isn’t attractive on it’s own, but the fungus makes sure to pretty up its host, whether its male or female. After 15 to 22 hours, the wings will pop out to resemble the pose of a female looking to attract a mate. As an extra touch, the fungus causes the beetle’s abdomen to swell, which is an attractive look to male beetles that seem to prefer larger females in general. This attempt at sexiness doesn’t make zombified males all that enticing, but zombified females do draw a lot of attention from healthy males in the area. The resulting contact with those males is the fungus’ real goal, because that’s how new spores get spread from a zombie female to new flowers across the meadow.

This isn’t the only insect to have it’s brain and body taken over by a fungus, but there are still some questions particular to this pairing. Since the fungus already manipulates the beetles’ behavior, scientists are going to take the opportunity to measure exactly how big a role opened wings plays in courtship by gluing zombified wings shut. The zombie won’t object, and better yet, won’t do anything new that would add unwanted variables to the study.

Source: Fungus uses zombie female beetles to infect males by Bob Yirka, Phys.org

On October 26th, 2017 we learned about

A reexamination of the fossil record finds that cockroaches aren’t so ancient after all

According to popular lore, nothing will ever bring down cockroaches. They’ve supposedly been on Earth since time immemorial, and will be hear long after humans wipe themselves off the map. What’s more, they’ll probably continue living in the ruins of our kitchens just to spite us. Unsurprisingly, careful research is finding that the legendary persistence of cockroaches just isn’t true. In fact, some fabled dates of the roaches’ origins appear to be wrong by at least 160 million years.

The story of cockroaches was thought to have started in the Carboniferous Period, over 300 million years ago. It was a time when much of the planet was constantly warm and humid, which admittedly does sound like something a cockroach would be into. Fish were starting to look more like their modern counterparts, but terrestrial vertebrates were just getting started as proto-amphibians. While the world definitely had plenty of insects at this point, as they seemed to evolve alongside some of the first terrestrial plants 479 million years ago, there’s no evidence of true cockroaches. The closest thing would be a confusingly-named group of bugs called “roachoids.”

Roachoids were cockroaches ancient ancestors to be sure. The beetles resembled modern roaches enough to be given the associated name, but they weren’t strictly the first cockroach. In fact, the roachoid lineage was diverse enough that modern cockroaches are more closely related to a praying mantis than the roach-like insects from 300 million years ago. Aside from the name, part of the confusion in differentiating ancient roachoids from true cockroaches is that many fossil specimens were originally misclassified. It’s estimated that only 25 percent of supposedly ancient cockroach fossils are actually cockroaches, and as these identifications are corrected, the age of roaches will continue to be refined and adjusted.

Cockroaches in the Cretaceous

This isn’t to say that cockroaches are the newest bug on the block. Cretaholocompsa montsecana is the oldest known roach, and it was scuttling around what is now Spain in the Cretaceous period 130 million years ago. That makes it a younger lineage than a Stegosaurus, but older than a Triceratops. No matter who its neighbors were, it probably lived in their shadows similarly to roaches around humans, eating and cleaning up after scraps and waste. There’s a fair chance that there were earlier cockroaches as far back as the Jurassic period, but their lineages seem to have gone extinct, with no descendants alive today.

Beyond the trailblazing of C. montsecana, there isn’t a lot of roach diversity in the fossil record until after the dinosaurs went extinct 65 million years ago. Other cockroach species have turned up from 40 and 50 million years ago, and researchers suspect that most modern cockroach species started to evolve around this time period. None of this makes roaches any more pleasant to discover on the sidewalk or under your sink, but it might influence your thinking about just how immutable these supposed living fossils really are.

Source: Old, But Not That Old: Debunking the Myth of Ancient Cockroaches by Dominic Anthony Evangelista and Manpreet Kohli, Entomology Today

On October 18th, 2017 we learned about

Tactile stealth makes mosquitoes more successful at sucking your blood

In addition to keeping your guts in, germs out and providing a convenient canvas for tattoos and scars, your skin is your body’s largest sensory organ. It’s loaded with different types of nerve cells to pick up tiny changes in pressure that might spell trouble for your body, from a cactus needle to a parasitic insect. Unfortunately for us, insects like mosquitoes have evolved adaptions to our epidermal warning system, giving them a chance to sneak in a bloody snack without drawing our attention.

Sneaky stabbing and sucking

When a mosquito “bites” you, it’s actually piercing your skin with its proboscis. In insects like butterflies, the proboscis is a long, delicate tube that is used to suck up nectar from a flower. In a mosquito, it’s a bit more weaponized, and is actually a sheathed set of six thin needles called stylets. Two stylets have tiny teeth to cut through the skin, but they’re sharp enough that they can slip between your skin’s sensory defenses. The next two stylets push the incision open, followed by a labrum that senses for blood vessels.

Finally, the hypopharynx covers the top of the labrum to make it into more of a tube, as well as drip drool back into your incision. In addition to passing pathogens to our bodies, the drool keeps the blood from coagulating, or clotting, too quickly. This allows the mosquito to get her fill of blood cells, even taking the time to poop out excess water while she sucks.

Soft, delicate departures

A mosquitoes departure is no less specialized, as all that blood would go to waste if we detected the parasite and squashed before it could escape to lay eggs. Many insects, and birds and probably pterosaurs, kick-start their flight by pushing off the ground, or skin, with their legs. By catapulting themselves into the air, they save their wings some work and get moving faster. The catch is that they’re exerting all the force of their liftoff in one quick movement, which means that that force feels more punctuated and noticeable to your skin.

To make their departure as gentle and subtle as possible, mosquitoes shift the work to their wings. 61 percent of a mosquitoes liftoff is powered by its wings, which get to push against the air instead of your skin. Their longer legs than the average fly allow them to push with the same amount of force, but that force can be spread out over a longer amount of time. All these adjustments soften the impact of mosquito take-offs, but without sacrificing speed compared to other flies. The one catch is that a belly full of blood does weigh them down a bit, as they move around 18 percent slower in the air than unladen insects. This means a mosquito’s final escape is just less than one mile an hour, although we’re usually too distracted by the histamine-induced itching to notice.

Source: The physics of mosquito takeoffs shows why you don’t feel a thing by Mariah Quintanilla, Science News