To find potential partners, male mosquitoes tune in to the buzz created by the flapping wings of their female counterparts. But a teen researcher just recently found that stereo speakers that mimic such buzz could be used to trick the males. If the male mosquitoes could be lured to the faux buzzing, then they might eventually ignore the females. This could decrease their mating and eventually cut down the population of these bugs.
But aside from distracting male mosquitoes away from potential partners, the fake buzzing might also be used to bait them towards bug zappers. The best bug zapper currently uses light to attract mosquitoes, but sound might turn out to be the more effective way to lure specific bugs.
The researcher is Shantanu Jahkete, a 10th grade student at the South Fork High School in Stuart, Fla. Jahkete shared the particulars of his experiment at the 2015 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (one of the many events that will often be featured here). The annual fair was created by the Society for Science and the Public (SSP), and this year it brought in 1702 finalists from around 70 different nations.
In his research, Jahkete first coded a plain computer program that made a little speaker vibrate. With the program, the speaker’s frequency or rate of vibration could be adjusted at will. He then positioned the speaker next to a huge box with male mosquitoes (around 100 of them). He observed that frequencies from 350 to 500 hertz were quite effective in attracting the male mosquitoes.
Next, Jahkete tweaked the program so that within 25 seconds, the frequency varied between 350 to 500 hertz. Nonetheless, the male mosquitoes reacted the same way they did in the first test. When he tried it on the females, they showed no interest since they don’t use sound to find a mate. Finally, Jahkete tried it on a box with both female and male mosquitoes. He observed that around 80% of the males left the females behind to go where the buzzing was coming from.
Jahkete’s device could be built under $20, making it a viable technology for zapping bugs. So next time you buy a bug zapper, don’t be surprised if there are speakers on it.