Insects can talk with each other but, without a voice, they do this through sound they make using body parts like legs or wings (like crickets) or chemical odors, e.g. pheromones. Flies communicate using flashes from light reflecting off a their wings as they move, or flashing wingbeat frequency. The flashing wingbeats cannot be seen by human eyes but can be seen by specialized fly eyes called ommatidia. The flashing wingbeats represent specific information to assist some flies, including mosquitoes, house flies, carrion flies, and others, in locating others of the same species and potential mates.
Using mosquitos as a model organism, the Flashing Wingbeats Project aims to expand our knowledge of this novel communication pathway. Preliminary work is currently supported through the Ohio University Provost Undergraduate Research Fund.
Mosquitoes are a family of insects within the Order Diptera (Latin translation means “two wings”) that make up more than 3,000 species in the world. Mating occurs within large groups of males (called swarms) that attract females to enter and select a mate. Males will start to swarm at sunrise or sunset and, once a female has entered the swarm, they will use sound cues to identify her. After mating, the female mosquito requires a blood meal from an animal (e.g. deer, birds, and humans) to develop eggs.
The blood meal is how mosquitoes can spread disease, e.g. West Nile Virus, Malaria, and Zika Virus, by transferring the pathogen through the bite. Nearly 700 million people contract mosquito-borne illnesses each year, causing more than one million deaths. This project is using Culex pipiens obtained from Meuti Lab at Ohio State University (and free of any disease causing pathogens). However, it is our hope that by understanding the mechanisms of flashing wingbeats, we can expand our knowledge of fly communication and, perhaps, provide more insight for future applications in environmentally friendly traps that suppress mosquito populations that are vectors of human and wildlife diseases.
EDUCATION and OUTREACH
Join Dr. Brodie Thursday, June 10 at 9am on WATH radio when Brodie will discuss her recent research investigating visual cues used by swarming flies, e.g., midges and mosquitos, for attracting potential mates.
THE PROJECT TEAM