How to tell whether a mosquito is male or female (without getting bitten)
The mosquito on the left is a male Aedes aegypti mosquito. The mosquito on the right is his female counterpart. Viva la difference— and the difference is in the antennae.
The mosquito on the left is a male Aedes aegypti mosquito. The mosquito on the right is his female counterpart.
Viva la difference — and the difference is in the antennae. Mosquito antennae are lined with fine hairs called antennal flagellum, and the density of the flagellum differs from one sex to another. Males have many, many more antennal flagellum, turning their antennae into a pair of bushy bottle brushes. Megan Fritz, a post-doctoral student in the North Carolina State University department of entomology described them to me as the mosquitoes' mustache. Even though mosquitoes are tiny, the males' flagellum are prominently noticeable to the naked eye. Fritz can tell which mosquitoes are boys and which are girls, on sight.
Female Aedes aegypti do the biting. But they don't have nearly as many flagellum and, thus, their hearing is not nearly as finely tuned as that of male mosquitoes. That's because the men and the women are looking for different things.
Female mosquitoes are on the lookout for victims to bite. Like the males, they eat sugar. At the NCSU mosquito breeding facility, Megan Fritz feeds both males and females on sugar water. But, without regular meals of blood, the females lose their ability to reproduce. No blood, no baby mosquitoes. Unsurprisingly, then, female mosquitoes have special sensory abilities that allow them to find and procure blood.
Males, on the hand, are primarily interested in finding females. And that's where those thick flagellum come in. Turns out, the flagellum are integral to the mosquitoes' ability to hear. Specifically, all those flagellum help male mosquitoes hear the very, very, very quiet sounds of female mosquitoes buzzing around. Sound waves make the flagellum move. That movement is carried through the antenna to a special organ that helps the mosquitoes actually make sense of the motion. Called Johnston's organ, it can tell males how fast the wings of nearby mosquitoes are beating and it can help them distinguish male from female, and species from species.
• The Mosquito Reference Manual
• A research paper that explains how mosquitoes hear and how the antennal flagellum work
• Another paper that describes several ways that male mosquitoes use their antennae to explore their world
More than 125 of these curious soccer ball-sized glass spheres hang near the floor of the Mediterranean Sea. Even though they’re deep underwater, they’re keeping a constant vigil for neutrinos, particles that may be evidence of dark matter, supernovae, and neutron stars far off in intergalactic space. Eventually, the Cubic Kilometer Neutrino Telescope (KM3NeT) will […]
A key challenge in building colonies on the moon is that it’s incredibly expensive to transport construction materials to space from Earth. That’s why researchers are exploring how moon bases could be mostly constructed from raw materials already there. A team of scientists working with the European Space Agency (ESA) are exploring how urine could […]
The new Mars rover Perseverance, set to launch in July for a February 2021 landing, will be outfitted with its own small helicopter. NASA engineers at Kennedy Space Station recently put the chopper through its paces, marking the last time they’ll spin it up before landing on the red planet. From Kennedy Space Center: The […]
Whether you’re looking to create perfect portraits or amazing artwork, if your medium is digital, you know you absolutely must have Photoshop to do your best making. So if you’ve been putting off really mastering the various techniques, tools, and styles it offers for your craft, now is a great time to make it happen. […]
Past meets present in the retro-inspired Rymek keyboard that pairs with tablets, phones, and monitors
There are few things more satisfying than the clickety-clack of an old keyboard. So old, in fact, that it’s really more of a typewriter sound and feel than that of a keyboard. But if you want to enjoy the benefits of both, check out this Rymek Retro Bluetooth 3.0 Mechanical Keyboard. Bringing you an impressive […]
There are plenty of productive ways to spend time while stuck indoors. While it’s undoubtedly fun to binge all 15 seasons of Supernatural or sink days of playtime into an Overwatch campaign, learning something new is definitely a more meaningful and long-term beneficial use of open hours. And if you’re going to invest time in […]