Science

Antenna-inspired device detects disease-carrying mosquitos

Antenna-inspired device detect...
A female Aedes aegypti mosquito, with her feathery antennae clearly visible
A female Aedes aegypti mosquito, with her feathery antennae clearly visible
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The prototype device, set up in a mosquito-netted lab
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The prototype device, set up in a mosquito-netted lab
A female Aedes aegypti mosquito, with her feathery antennae clearly visible
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A female Aedes aegypti mosquito, with her feathery antennae clearly visible

If you're trying to eradicate disease-carrying mosquitos, it's important to know when and where the biting females of the targeted species are present. An experimental new device could help, by mimicking the insects' hearing apparatus.

Although mosquitos don't have ears in the traditional sense, they do have antennae that are covered in feathery hairs. Those hairs vibrate when struck by sound waves, sending signals down approximately 15,000 nerve cells to the hearing center of the animals' brains.

When another individual is nearby, a mosquito will emit sound waves that even it itself can't hear … or at least, not initially. These waves get distorted by the rapidly beating wings of the other mosquito, and are reflected back to the originating insect. Using its feathery antenna, that mosquito is not only able to hear the echoes of its sound waves, but it's also able to determine the sex and species of the other mosquito, based on the distinct manner in which the waves are distorted.

The prototype device, set up in a mosquito-netted lab
The prototype device, set up in a mosquito-netted lab

Led by Dr. Tim Ziemer, scientists at Germany's University of Bremen have developed a microphone-based device that's inspired by those antennae. It emits sound waves, then utilizes a combination of speech recognition tools and machine learning algorithms to analyze the distortion of the received echoes.

As a result, it's able to determine the species and sex of nearby flying mosquitos. Additionally, due to the device's antenna-like structure, the setup is better than conventional audio processing techniques at filtering out distracting background noise.

It is hoped that once developed further, the technology could be deployed in the field to help target disease-carrying mosquitos while limiting the indiscriminate use of pesticides.

The research was presented this week via the online 179th Meeting of the Acoustical Society of America.

Source: Acoustical Society of America via EurekAlert

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