How Insects Evolved to Ultrafast Flight (And Back)
Mosquitoes are some of the fastest-flying insects. Flapping their wings more than 800 times a second, they achieve their speed because the muscles in their wings can flap faster than their nervous system can tell them to beat.
This asynchronous beating comes from how the flight muscles interact with the physics of the insect’s springy exoskeleton. This decoupling of neural commands and muscle contractions is common in only four distinct insect groups.
For years, scientists assumed these four groups evolved these ultrafast wingbeats separately, but research from the Georgia Institute of Technology and the University of California, San Diego (UC San Diego) shows that they evolved from a single common ancestor. This discovery demonstrates evolution has repeatedly turned on and off this particular mode of flight. The researchers developed physics models and robotics to test how these transitions could occur.