Recent discoveries could soon put a crimp in the mosquito mating game
If you’ve spent time outside recently, you’ve probably heard some nice sounds: birds singing, squirrels chattering, perhaps kids playing. But if you’re in Florida, you’ve also probably heard something a bit sinister: mosquitos buzzing.
Although there’s really no such thing as mosquito season in South Florida (as they’re here year-round), now is the time when we start to see – and hear – them more often.
So, why do they buzz?
Like most flying insects, the noise mosquitos make comes from their wings. And the closer they get to you, the louder it becomes. However, scientists have found that there’s much more to the buzz than just flying.
The buzz on mating
Mosquito buzzing, it turns out, is a big part of their mating habits. Though we can’t tell the difference between a male and female just by this sound, mosquitos can. Females are larger and they flap their wings more slowly than the males, which is how the males identify them.
Sound is so important to mating that when females aren’t flying, the males don’t pay them any attention. Even recordings of tuning forks vibrating at the same pitch as female mosquitos got the males in the mood for love.
More than meets the ear
The buzzing we hear when mosquitos come near us isn’t just the result of flapping wings. In 1902, British entomologists discovered that at the base of their wings, mosquitos have a toothed organ that scrapes, causing the buzzing sound when the wings move. A further discovery found that mosquitos actually use this buzzing to sing to each other.
When males and females fly close to one another, they change the pitch of their buzz to match each other. If it is a good enough match, they mate.
Mosquitos “interact acoustically with each other when the two are within earshot – a few centimeters of each other,” said Ron Hoy, professor of neurobiology and behavior at Cornell University. “The frequency at which males and females converge is a harmonic or multiple of their wing-beat frequencies, which is approximately 400 hertz [vibrations per second] for the female and 600 hertz for the male.”
And when both buzzes are put together, this creates a sound of 1,200 hertz, which is “significantly higher than what was previously thought to be mosquitoes’ upper hearing limit,” Hoy added.
Why should we be concerned with this mosquito love connection?
Mosquitos continue to be extremely problematic, so the more we know about them, the better chance we have for controlling them. For example, scientists recently found very interesting information about how mosquitos fly that could lead to the creation of better traps. And these new details about buzzing can also be helpful.
Researchers are hoping that this acoustic knowledge will be instrumental in combating mosquito-borne illnesses, especially yellow and dengue fevers. Dengue in particularly is a global problem, affecting 50 million people every year around the world. Currently, there is no vaccine available for the disease.
“By studying these flight tone signals, we may be able to determine what kind of information males and females consider important when choosing a mate,” said Cornell graduate student Lauren Cator. “This will allow us to release ‘sexy’ transgenic or sterilized males that will be able to successfully compete with wild populations.”
If you are tired of hearing buzzing when you’re in your yard (and the biting that often comes with it), get in touch with Platinum Mosquito Protection. We can set up a mosquito control system that will keep these annoying bugs away. For a free onsite consultation, just send us a message through our online contact form.