It’s hard to tell the difference between a male and female mosquito just by giving it the eye test. Moreover, most people don’t care. If they see a mosquito, they swat it.
But hey, it may be time to spare the males. After all, male mosquitos don’t bite humans. When you get a mosquito bite, you can thank (blame) the female.
And now, it seems, we know why, exactly, male mosquitos don’t bite. This information is courtesy of a study from Rockefeller University scientist Leslie Vosshall.
“It appears that both mosquito sexes share the same neurons and brain structures needed to find humans, but that this hardware is hidden in the male mosquito brain, locked behind a simple genetic switch,” Rockefeller U explained on its website. “Mutate the right gene, the researchers discovered, and male mosquitoes begin buzzing toward human scents in search of a prize that they do not even want.”
Science kind of tricked the bugs…
So, how did scientists make such a discovery? Well, they messed with mosquitos brains.
Rockefeller scientists “began their work by examining a gene called fruitless, which is known to control courtship behavior in fruit flies. When they knocked out the analogous gene in male mosquitoes, these insects, like fruit flies, failed to mate effectively with females. But the scientists chose to investigate further, suspecting that the mutation might also impact male mosquitoes’ desire for blood,” the website wrote.
“When offered warm blood through a net, however, mutant males abstained just like non-mutant males, even as female mosquitoes partook. When exposed to body heat, females liked what they felt. Mutant males, true to their sex, remained unimpressed by the promise of a blood meal — suggesting the corrupted gene doesn’t play a role in feeding behavior, per se.”
Bottom line: Next time you go to swat a mosquito, you may want to think twice. You could be killing a pretty good guy.