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Queens Anniversary Prizes 2015

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Learning to love the whine of mosquitoes!

Dr Gabriella Gibson (NRI, University of Greenwich) and Prof Ian Russell (University of Sussex) and their team of scientists have discovered that mosquitoes use that irritating whine to communicate with each other (Gibson & Russell, 2006 and Pennetier et al 2009).

The aim of the project is to discover how female Anopheles gambiae mosquitoes (the most dangerous carriers of malaria in the world) find the right mosquito to mate with, so we can find new ways of eliminating malaria and understand how disease carrying in mosquitoes evolves in the first place.

Can mosquitoes sing?

The flight tone created by a mosquito is based on how fast it beats its wings. Female An. gambiae produce a flight tone close to the note A above middle C on a piano, whereas the male 'sings' at about 5 whole notes higher (F). When they fly close together, however, they do their best to harmonise their flight tones, each one continuously adjusts its own flight tone until they synchronise at about E. This 'mating duet' helps them recognise each others sex and species. Pairs of two males or two females do not harmonise, rather, they avoid each others wing-beat frequency, and male-female pairs of different species hardly ever harmonise.

Listen and learn

An artist, Robin Meier, so fascinated by this discovery, wanted to share it with the world. Robin has created installations in the USA, Japan and Paris to demonstrate how a chorus of mosquitoes can be conducted to sing by an eager audience and the clever use of pre-recorded songs. Watch how tenderly the participants treat the very same mosquitoes they would normally have been quick to squash!

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