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Dec. 2, 2021
By Fred MillerU of A System Division of Agriculture@AgNews479
Related PHOTOS: https://flic.kr/s/aHsmXc19Ua
Research paper referenced third graph: https://bit.ly/MosquitoHearingReport
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Sshhh … mosquitoes are listening.
Granted, they are probably not listening to you, but researchers have found that the
ability of mosquitoes to hear and respond to sounds is more complex than once believed,
said Emily McDermott, assistant professor of entomology for the Arkansas Agricultural
Experiment Station, the research arm of the University of Arkansas System Division
McDermott’s graduate assistant, Cassie Steele, a Ph.D. student in Dale Bumpers College
of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences, wrote a research paper that surveyed numerous studies investigating the biology of mosquitoes’ hearing and
how they use what they hear.
Steele and McDermott began the survey two years ago while they were both working at
Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Maryland. It was published this summer by
the Entomological Society of America.
Did you hear?
Mosquitoes possess antennal ears that vibrate in response to sound, according to Steele’s
and McDermott’s paper. The vibration is transmitted to a biomechanical structure called
the Johnston’s Organ, and from there to the central nervous system, by which the mosquito
There are differences in the structures of male and female mosquito hearing that suggest
the males’ antennae are more sensitive.
Female mosquitoes might locate other animals, including humans, by sound, McDermott
said, but the evidence is not clear. Although research shows that mosquitoes do respond
to sounds in the range of human speech, the bigger attracter is likely the carbon
dioxide that people expel when they talk. Mosquitoes are also attracted to people
by heat and odor.
While at Walter Reed, Steele said she was planning a study to use recorded human voices
to see whether the sound alone attracted mosquitoes. But she and McDermott left there
to come to Arkansas before the study was launched.
Steele said she hopes to be able to pick that project up again next summer.
Primarily, mosquitoes use their hearing to locate mates, McDermott said. They can
differentiate species and sex by the sound of wingbeats. That opens the door for research
Much of the ongoing research into mosquito hearing focuses on how it can be used by
entomologists to monitor populations, McDermott said.
Programs to reduce mosquito-borne diseases have used sterile males, males that bear
only non-viable offspring, and a bacterium that prevents Aedes egypti mosquitoes from carrying dengue fever. McDermott said audible traps could help scientists
monitor those specific males to determine their survival in the wild.
“Trapping and monitoring is the biggest use for understanding and using mosquito hearing,”
McDermott said. “What we want to know is do we have survival … is the trait surviving
in the population?”
Researchers cited in their survey paper used live recordings and synthesized versions
of female wingbeats from specific species to test their usefulness in monitoring the
males, Steele said.
Audible traps offer advantages over other types of mosquito traps, Steele said. Using
the wingbeats of specific female mosquitoes allows researchers to target males of
specific species. The reverse is also true for studies where females of given species
Testing the use of recorded and synthesized mosquito sounds presents certain challenges,
Steele said. The research requires the sounds to be played in areas where the mosquito
populations exist, which are often where people live.
“People don’t want to hear constant mosquito buzzing,” McDermott said. “It limits
places and times where we can use them.”
The wingbeats of potential mates may be sweet to the mosquitoes, but humans prefer
to leave them off their sounds of summer playlists.
To learn more about Division of Agriculture research, visit the Arkansas Agricultural
Experiment Station website: https://aaes.uada.edu/. Follow us on Twitter at @ArkAgResearch.
To learn more about the Division of Agriculture, visit https://uada.edu/. Follow us on Twitter at @AgInArk.
About the Division of Agriculture
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture’s mission is to strengthen
agriculture, communities, and families by connecting trusted research to the adoption
of best practices. Through the Agricultural Experiment Station and the Cooperative
Extension Service, the Division of Agriculture conducts research and extension work
within the nation’s historic land grant education system.
The Division of Agriculture is one of 20 entities within the University of Arkansas
System. It has offices in all 75 counties in Arkansas and faculty on five system campuses.
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension
and Research programs and services without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity,
sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran
status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative
Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.
Media Contact: Fred MillerU of A System Division of AgricultureArkansas Agricultural Experiment Station(479) email@example.com