Sussex boffins reveal mosquito whine is sex song

Posted On 06 Feb 2010 at 9:36 am

The annoying buzz of mosquitoes is actually a mating song, a Sussex professor has discovered.

Professor Ian Russell and fellow University of Sussex researcher Dr Gabriella Gibson discovered that male and female mosquitoes harmonise with each other to ensure that their potential mates are of the right sex and species.

The ‘song’ produced by each insect depends on the frequency of the insects’ wing beats in flight.

Two mosquitoes don’t harmonise successfully if they are of the same sex or if they are not the same type of mosquito.

The findings were published at the beginning of the year in Current Biology.

However, this is not Professor Russell’s main field of work. He usually researches human hearing, and next week he will be awarded the highest honour in his field, the Association for Research in Otolaryngology (ARO) Award of Merit, at a special ceremony in California.

The award was in recognition of his “exceptional contributions to the field of hearing” during a 35-year research career at Sussex.

It will be presented during the organisation’s annual Mid-Winter Meeting on Monday 9 February – and Professor Russell will give a 45-minute lecture on the mosquito findings before receiving it.

He said: “”The mosquito research is for me an exciting new venture that I run in parallel with the work on hearing.”

The ARO, a scientific society of researchers in hearing, speech, balance, smell, taste, and diseases of the head and neck, established the Award of Merit in 1977. Previous winners include the Nobel Prize winner Georg von Békésy.

Ian will be only the fourth English person to receive the award.

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