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J Exp Biol. 2018 Oct 15;221(Pt 20). pii: jeb178905. doi: 10.1242/jeb.178905.

Mammals repel mosquitoes with their tails.

Author information

1
School of Mechanical Engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, GA 30332, USA.
2
School of Mechanical Engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, GA 30332, USA hu@me.gatech.edu.
3
School of Biology, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, GA 30332, USA.

Abstract

The swinging of a mammal's tail has long been thought to deter biting insects, which, in cows, can drain up to 0.3 liters of blood per day. How effective is a mammal's tail at repelling insects? In this combined experimental and theoretical study, we filmed horses, zebras, elephants, giraffes and dogs swinging their tails. The tail swings at triple the frequency of a gravity-driven pendulum, and requires 27 times more power input. Tails can also be used like a whip to directly strike at insects. This whip-like effect requires substantial torques from the base of the tail on the order of 101-102 N m, comparable to the torque of a sedan, but still within the physical limits of the mammal. Based on our findings, we designed and built a mammal tail simulator to simulate the swinging of the tail. The simulator generates mild breezes of 1 m s-1, comparable to a mosquito's flight speed, and sufficient to deter up to 50% of mosquitoes from landing. This study may help us determine new mosquito-repelling strategies that do not depend on chemicals.

KEYWORDS:

Defense; Mammal tail; Mosquito

PMID:
30323113
DOI:
10.1242/jeb.178905
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
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