Why Do Mosquitoes Buzz?

They’re actually singing mating songs for each other.

mosquito buzz

The drawing to the right showing part of the mosquito’s wing is what makes the buzzing or whining sound. The comb-like half, shown in blue, scrapes against the part shown in yellow, whenever the mosquito flaps its wings. (Source: “On a Possible Stridulating Organ in the Mosquito”)

Why do mosquitoes buzz in your ears? The short answer: They can’t help it. Mosquitoes’ wings make that annoying buzz or whining sound whenever they fly. When they circle your head, looking for a place to land and bite, their buzz sounds louder whenever they’re close to your ear.

Both male and female mosquitoes buzz, since they both have wings, but you probably won’t notice the whine of the males, because they don’t want to drink your blood. So they stay away from your ears, eating nectar, while the females come near to annoy you.

Scientists have discovered that the buzz of mosquitoes is more than just a way to annoy you. It’s actually important to help them find suitable mates.

Since female mosquitoes are larger, they flap their wings slower, and males know it. They use the distinctive pitch of the females’ buzz to recognize them. Louis M. Roth, who studied yellow fever mosquitoes for the U.S. Army during World War II, noticed that males ignored females whenever the females were quietly resting, but whenever the females were flying, and therefore buzzing, the males wanted to mate with them. The males even wanted to mate with recordings of female mosquitoes or tuning forks that vibrated at the same pitch.

“A delightful African folk tale for anyone who hates the sound of mosquitoes buzzing in their ears. Kids will learn the lesson not to gossip, and they’ll enjoy looking for the little pink bird in the colorful pictures too.”

Dr. Christopher Johnston of Baltimore, Maryland had already discovered how mosquitoes can hear, almost a hundred years before. He found that they have an organ in their antenna, which was named the Johnston organ after him. It allows them to recognize the buzz of other mosquitoes.

It took other scientists to discover exactly what made the sound. Though you hear the buzz whenever mosquitoes fly, it’s not actually caused by the wings beating against the air. There’s an organ at the base of the wings which scrapes and makes the sound when the wings move. British entomologists A. E. Shipley and Edwin Wilson published a paper describing it in 1902, which they called “On a Possible Stridulating Organ in the Mosquito.” Stridulating means to make noise, and the toothed organ they found made noise as it rubbed against itself, while the wings moved.

By the middle of the 20th Century, scientists had figured out that mosquitoes have special organs to whine or buzz as they fly, that other mosquitoes can hear the noise, and that the buzz of female mosquitoes makes males want to mate with them.

It wasn’t until more recently that researchers Gabriella Gibson and Ian Russell discovered that mosquitoes actually change their buzz to “sing” to each other before they mate. They discovered that when males and females flew nearby, they altered the pitch of their buzz to match each other, and if they matched well enough, they mated. Cornell researchers tried the same experiment with mosquitoes which carry the dangerous disease dengue, and found the same thing.https://www.youtube.com/embed/F9uVyCInhhI?rel=0

As scientists learn more about why mosquitoes buzz, they may be able to use that knowledge to help keep them from mating. Fewer mosquitoes mean fewer mosquito bites, and fewer diseases being spread. For example, in this article, researcher Lauren Cator suggests that if scientists can make sterile male mosquitoes who “sing” to females just as well as fertile males, the females will choose the sterile males, and won’t produce fertile eggs.

There are a few myths about the mosquitoes you hear buzzing near your ears. Some people say that mosquitoes which buzz, don’t bite. Well, that’s true. As long as they’re buzzing, they’re flying, so they won’t bite you. But as soon as they land, look out!

Does anybody actually enjoy the sound of mosquitoes buzzing? Apparently, teenagers do! With what scientists are learning about mosquitoes, I suppose it’s fitting that teenagers are using an electronic sound called a mosquito buzz as their mating “call.”

Cornell researchers have found out that mosquitoes not only buzz in your ears, they buzz in each others’ “ears” too.

The commitment a mother bears her children, biological imperative though it may be, can produce some astounding behavior. Fathers, take note. Not one of the 3,000 known species of mosquitoes features a male willing to dine on blood for his kids.

In most species the female requires a meal of blood to aid in egg production, in addition to her usual diet of nectar.

To find victims, the mother-to-be follows cues like our body heat, moisture and carbon dioxide emissions. In particular, the carbon dioxide we exhale attracts the insect to our heads, where they fly around looking for a tasty spot.

I would write a brilliant blog tonight, but I am tired. Not because of bad dreams or pressure at work. No, I am sleepy because of a small winged, creature who snuck into my room and proceeded to offer a high pitched tone directly into my ear. When I turned on the lights to find it, it was not there. When I gave up and attempted sleep, buzzzz… or maybe zzzzinnng? I would find the perfect word, but as mentioned, I am too tired.

Dang mosquito.

Mosquitoes are actually the most dangerous animals in the world, killing more than two million people per year. In the United States alone, there are 150 different species, each carrying a different type of disease. The most common species found in the U.S. include the Aedes albopictusCulex pipiens and Anopheles quadrimaculatus, but what I am interested in tonight is, why do they buzz? Why right in my ear? Why?

According to the West African tale, it happened this way: a mosquito said something foolish to the iguana who put sticks in his ears to hear no more of such foolishness. This frightened the next animal and thus created a chain of panic until a monkey killed an owlet which caused the mother owl to mourn and neglect her duties of waking the sun. The animals were furious with the mosquito. So, mosquitoes buzz in people’s ears cause they are asking if everyone is still angry with them. I’m not buying it.

A ranger at a local park told me that since mosquitoes are attracted by the smell of carbon dioxide, given off by us when we exhale, perhaps the mosquitoes benefit from our jumping about when they try to buzz us, causing more breathing and more carbon goodness. Another expert said it was a little warning sign, a gift from nature, like a snake’s rattle. Another said the tone attracts the male. Then why in MY ear? Does anybody really know?

Here’s a few things I do know:

  • Mosquitoes are crepuscular, most active at dawn and dusk.
  • Only female mosquitoes suck blood so that their eggs can mature prior to laying. The blood serves no nourishment. Both males and females feed on nectar.
  • She will often drink more than her weight in blood in one “sitting.”
  • A mosquito does not “bite”, but siphon the blood out by a tube.
  • The only place mosquitoes do not live is Antarctica.
  • You can scare off mosquitoes by eating garlic! For more tips on keeping them away, check out: http://www.doityourself.com/stry/mosquitopesticides
  • You can get a mosquito buzz ringtone on your mobile phone that is rumored to be at a frequency too high for those over 40 to hear. (17KHz Mosquito .wav). I could hear it fine, by the way, but why would anyone want to?

I am now off to sleep with no answers, fearing another night of mystery buzz tones. If anyone can tell my why mosquitoes buzz in our ears, please do. With sleep and knowledge, I promise my next blog will be brilliant.