Mosquitoes are said to get a whiff of their potential prey before they literally go for the jugular. And then according to researchers, it is bloodlust all the way.
The bump on your arm left by a mosquito bite is a reminder that mankind has not been able to impose himself on all of Nature. The mighty mosquito remains a thorn in the side of humanity as it spreads everything from malaria to dengue to yellow fever.
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These diseases are transferred to man via the pathogens it injects into the bloodstream of hapless individuals every time it bites them.
With ten thousand insecticides and repellent liquids being employed, the battle still remains a constant struggle between this tiny varmint and man who is supposedly the paragon of animals. Maybe the answer to mosquito damage control lies in another direction altogether.
Scientists have discovered that this monstrous midget with its buzzing sound is adept at smelling out its quarry before it closes in for the kill. The clues as to how the mosquito strikes like a sharpshooter have been gathered by a bunch of experts at the University of Washington and the California Institute of Technology.
“Very little was known about what a host looks like to the mosquito and how a mosquito decides where to land and begin to feed,” said UW biologist Jeff Riffell, co-author on the paper and one of three professors collaborating on these efforts.
The little vampires use their sense of smell to detect warm-blooded prey and then they employ their eyesight along with other instruments of input to target the victim mercilessly. In the past, it was not known what signals the mosquitoes used to find the perfect bull’s eye which they then went for like kamikaze pilots.
But now, it seems scientists have cracked the code. Smell is the main mission control center in the mosquito’s repertoire of attacking its nutritional source. The scientists utilized tunnels to observe the behavior of mosquitoes in the laboratory.
“What’s great about this wind tunnel is that it provided a nice control of wind conditions and the environment these mosquitoes are flying around in,” said Riffell. “We can really test different cues and the mosquito’s response to them.”
Under these conditions of control, things went hunky dory and soon enough the researchers had grabbed the bull by the horns (so to say). Carbon dioxide was one of the strongest attracting agents. Thus every time we humans exhaled, mosquitoes senses us from miles away.
“When we gave them the odor stimulus, all of the sudden they were attracted to this black dot,” said Riffell. “It’s almost like the carbon dioxide gas turned on the visual stimulus for the mosquitoes to go to this black dot.”
Next were such factors as temperature and water vapor. These too made the mare go. Thus it appears to be the case that the ability of olfaction and the ophthalmic sense allowed this teensy weensy Dracula to venture forth in its hunt for fresh sources of blood.
“A lot of papers have been trying to find these odor sources that could repel or attract mosquitoes,” said Riffell. “What our research shows is that it’s not one kind of odor or stimulus that’s attracting mosquitoes, it’s a real combination of cues.”
This information is of great significance since it can allow for future biotechnologies that will act as a force field to shield human beings from these vicious predators. After all, as an insect, the mosquito is far more dangerous than the cockroach which can cause nothing more than a minor case of food poisoning.
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The study published on July 16 in Current Biology.