“Why are girl mosquitoes silent?”

Catching a mosquito
Our favorite sort of mosquito catcher. (Image by casmium via Flickr)

Ah, Mosquito Week, when every post seems to take two very itchy days to compose. 🙂 Is it Thanksgiving yet?

One of the reasons The Four-Year-Old has been plagued by mosquito bites this fall is that she has been taking weekly nature classes at the Mass Audubon Moose Hill Wildlife Sanctuary (a program she enthusiastically recommends, by the way). Every class includes a nature hike, and as I foolishly thought I could get away with using an all-natural non-toxic bug repellant this fall (picture the fleece and knit equivalent of a full haz-mat suit), a few hardy buzzers have found her.

One day as we were walking back to the car after a class on turkeys, she asked, “Mommyo, why are girl mosquitoes silent? And why do boy mosquitoes buzz?”

This was the first I’d ever heard of such a thing, so naturally I had to Ask the iPhone.

I found a few passing references to the opposite being true–male mosquitoes don’t buzz, while females do. But as that buzzing sound is produced by the beating of mosquito wings, I can’t understand how that could be true. Both male and female mosquitoes fly, don’t they?

The only source I found in my quick search that I really trusted on the topic says that both males and female mosquitoes buzz, and that they can adjust the speed of their wings to change the pitch of their buzz to create a sweet (to their ears) harmony during mating. Researchers are apparently trying to find ways to control the mosquito population by releasing a swarm of sweet-sounding sterile studs to fool the blood-sucking females. We here at Caterpickles Central wish them the best of luck.


    • According to Discover Magazine, they use genetic engineering to sterilize the males.

      I have no idea what this “genetic engineering” would entail (I am only an English major, after all, and rather pressed for time this afternoon with a turkey to brine, an apple pie to bake and a preschooler-decorated house to clean).

      Another approach is to engineer the male mosquitoes so that they produce offspring that are either incapable of surviving in the wild or that are incapable of transmitting diseases like dengue fever.


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