Friday, 17 July 2015

How mosquitoes zero in on warm bodies

By Jonathan WebbScience reporter, BBC News

16 July 2015 

New research suggests that mosquitoes track down something to bite using a sequence of three cues: smell, then sight, and finally heat.

Biologists recorded the movement of hungry mosquitoes inside a wind tunnel.

The insects were instantly attracted to a plume of CO2, much like a human breath; after sniffing this gas they would also home in on a black spot.

Finally, over much shorter distances, the mosquitoes were also drawn towards warmth.

The findings, published in the journal Current Biology, build on previous evidence that smell is crucial for mosquitoes to pinpoint their next meal.

Body odour, for example, may play a role in how they choose one victim over another.

But mosquitoes are particularly good at sniffing out CO2, which is highly concentrated in the breath of the animals whose blood they feed on - like humans. Mosquitoes can home in on stale, exhaled air from up to 50m away.

It was also known that heat and vision could be important for attracting the blood suckers, but the new study is the first to unpick the distinct role of all three cues.

"We were able to put together a working theory for how all these senses work together in the mosquito, to find a human," said first author Floris van Breugel, from the California Institute of Technology.

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