Mosquitoes have been considered to be the most irritating bloodsuckers around. Their buzzing is synonymous with their perseverance and the red bumps that they leave on our skin. These insects don’t let up or so it was previously believed. A new study published in the journal, Cell, suggests that mosquitoes can learn to avoid humans by simply swatting them repeatedly.
Mosquitoes have been known for some time to alternate between victims depending on the season, changing between mostly birds in the summer and both mammals and bird during colder seasons. While the reasons behind their preferences have yet to be discovered, scientists know that the bloodsuckers don’t bite humans at random.
A study conducted by the University of Washington has revealed that mosquitoes “ can in fact learn to associate a particular odor with an unpleasant mechanical shock akin to being swatted. As a result, they’ll avoid that scent the next time,”
For the study, researchers conditioned mosquitoes by forcing them to associate smells of specific people or species with a mechanical shock. This was done by simulating vibrations and accelerations generated by a vortex mixer in the laboratory.
The shocks altered the insects’ behavior and steered them away from the source. In a surprising twist, however, mosquitoes always flew to the smell of a chicken, even when it was associated with a mechanical shock.
Researchers explained how mosquitoes are dependent on dopamine, like any other animal. They reached this conclusion by looking at neuron activity in the olfactory centers of the mosquito brains. The scientists also looked at genetically modified mosquitoes, who lacked dopamine receptors, and noticed how they lost the ability to tell apart odors from mechanical shocks.
Senior author of the study and UW professor of biology, Jeff Riffell, claims that the new findings will lead to more effective tools for mosquito control.
The researchers are now focusing on how these insects choose their victims, an ability that is currently believed to also be linked to dopamine.
Image Source: WikipediaCommons
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