A Moment of Science

Mosquito Love Buzz

Is there any sound more annoying than the whine of a mosquito?

Mosquito sucking blood

Photo: kozzmen (flickr)

Mosquito bites can spread dangerous diseases

Is there any sound more annoying than the whine of a mosquito?

Yes, mosquitoes are pests through and through. But there’s more to their irritating whine than meets the ear. For mosquitoes, that’s the sound of love.

It’s well known by scientists that the mosquitoes’ distinctive buzz functions as a mating call. But one study shows that just before mating, members of a mosquito pair flap their wings just so to create a harmonic duet. Probably the coolest part about this research is how the scientists involved studied mosquito harmonies.

The researchers used little lassos to harness mosquitoes and fly them past each other. They also set up small microphones nearby to catch the insects’ love songs. They put sensors in the mosquitoes ears, or auditory organs, to record how they responded to mating calls. So if you’re not an entomologist, why should you care that mosquitoes harmonize before mating?

Because mosquitoes aren’t just annoying pests. They also spread dangerous diseases such as dengue fever, which affects more than fifty million people every year. There’s no vaccine for the fever and no preventive measure other than avoiding disease-carrying mosquitoes.

Which is where the new study could be important. Learning more about how mosquitoes mate could help scientists invent ways to target mosquitoes in areas at risk for dengue fever. For example, scientists could breed sterile male mosquitoes able to create the right tones and harmonies to compete with wild males and thereby reduce mosquito populations.

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