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Flying in tune: Buzz brings mosquito pairs together

Human beings are not the only animals keenly attuned to the high-pitched buzzing of mosquitoes--in fact, researchers have discovered, mosquitoes of both sexes are themselves highly responsive to the sounds of other mosquitoes and enter into complex mid-flight pre-mating duets that serve as a means of sex recognition.

The findings are reported in the July 12th issue of Current Biology by Gabriella Gibson of the Natural Resources Institute at the University of Greenwich and Ian Russell of the University of Sussex.

It has been known for decades that the highly specialized hearing organ of male mosquitoes enables them to detect and locate females. In the meantime, the potential for female responsiveness to sound has been overlooked, mainly because their antennae are so much simpler in form. Nonetheless, their auditory sensitivity is among the best of all insects analyzed thus far. Gibson and Russell have now demonstrated that pairs of flying Toxorhynchites brevipalpis respond to each other in a feedback-like interaction, such that each alters its own flight tone in response to the flight tone of the other. This interaction continues until the tones converge, in the case of male-female pairs, or dramatically diverge, in the case of same-sex pairs.

This flight-tone communication effectively serves as a mechanism for bringing together mosquitoes only of opposite sexes during pre-mating encounters and may hold the key to understanding how closely related species recognise con-specifics--that is, members of their own kind--because, the authors suggest, it is unlikely that identical sex-specific flight tones will be shared among different mosquito species.

Heidi Hardman | EurekAlert!
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