Monday, January 12, 2009

The Song of Love, Part 249

A nice small article by Henry Fountain, in the NY Times online for Friday, 9 January:

A mosquito may not be anyone’s idea of a hopeless romantic, but the insect does produce a love song of sorts — the whine of its beating wings, resonating in a part of the body called the thoracic box. A female’s whine, at a fundamental frequency of 300 to 600 hertz, is enough to make a male mosquito swoon.But Aedes aegypti, the mosquito species that transmits the viruses that cause dengue and yellow fevers in people, carries the love song concept to new aural heights, according to a paper published online in the journal Science. Lauren J. Cator, Ronald R. Hoy and colleagues at Cornell University report that A. aegypti males make a duet of it, by matching whines with the female.

Dr. Hoy said both male and female raise their whine to about 1200 hertz, which is a harmonic of the fundamental frequency of both the female (about 400) and male (about 600). It’s the first time that such “harmonic convergence” (as the paper dryly puts it) has been shown to occur.

He noted that the finding also disproved what scientists had long believed about mosquitoes — that they can’t hear above a certain frequency. “We all believed the ceiling to be 800 to 1000 hertz,” he said.

Dr. Hoy said that the behavior was probably a part of the sexual selection process. “Females are particularly picky,” he said. “A female is going to require of a courting male that he be able to match her flight tone.”

"Match her flight tone" - very nice. The music for the dance.

The research will be used to help efforts to eradicate the bugs, of course. It'll be interesting to see what strategies its genome will devise confronted so, within the behavior that defines the process of sexual selection, and whether it can develop them quickly.

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