Einstein Science Reporting for Kids
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8-Jan-2009

Contact: Science Press Package
scipak@aaas.org
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American Association for the Advancement of Science

Mosquito love songs and disease



The whine of an approaching mosquito can be maddening to humans, but it's a sweet sound to mosquitoes of the opposite sex. Scientists have discovered that male and female Aedes aegypti mosquitoes perform a mating duet in which they each adjust the speed of their wing beats to the same frequency, of 1,200 hertz. That's roughly an octave and a half above concert A on a piano.

The new frequency is a multiple of their individual frequencies, 400 hertz for the female and 600 hertz for the male. Until now, researchers didn't know that this mosquito could hear such high sounds. The findings are also surprising because researchers had previously thought that the female mosquitoes were actually deaf.

A. aegypti spreads diseases such as yellow and dengue fever, and interfering with this acoustic courtship process -- perhaps by releasing modified males that cannot adjust their flight tones -- may be a useful approach for controlling mosquito populations in areas where these diseases are a significant problem.

In their study, Lauren Cator of Cornell University and her colleagues tethered individual mosquitoes and flew them past stationary mosquitoes while recording the flight tones with a specialized microphone.

They also implanted minute electrodes into the mosquitoes hearing organ and found that this organ is sensitive to sounds up to 2,000 hertz. That's not particularly high for humans, who can generally hear sounds up to 20,000 hertz, but it's still surprisingly high for a mosquito!

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This study will be published online by the journal Science, at the Science Express website, on Thursday, 08 January.