The irritating sound of a buzzing mosquito is an annoying phenomenon worldwide. While you can find many a theory about which gender of mosquito buzzes and why, the truth is that both emit a high-pitched whining sound. Humans, however, are much more likely to hear female mosquitoes, as these are the only ones who suck blood.
The Gender Buzz
While there are significant gender differences between male and female mosquitoes, their buzzing is a trait shared by both. What’s more, it's not true that humans simply can’t hear the buzzing of one sex over the other; we can hear both. Mosquitoes generate this sound when they beat their wings together in flight. Sounds are not identical, however, as male mosquitoes usually have a lower wing beat frequency than females, so their buzz will be slightly lower in pitch.
The Mating Dance
Scientists have discovered the mosquitoes don’t buzz for no reason, or simply because that’s the sound their wings make when they are flying, as has sometimes been thought. In fact, mosquitoes may have a very good reason for buzzing the way they do. Using their wings, mosquitoes will harmonize with one another, trying to find a mutually pleasing tone. If two members of the same sex, or two members of different species, try to harmonize, they will fail, indicating that there is no mating potential. Success, on the other hand, indicates a green light.
Female mosquitoes are the only ones that feed on the blood of animals, including humans. Both males and females feed on nectar and water, but after a female has mated, she begins to bite living hosts. She requires blood for protein and energy, and without it she cannot lay her eggs. Therefore, while humans can hear both male and female buzzes, we might notice females far more often since they are the ones actually coming close enough for a meal.
There are several myths surrounding the mosquito’s buzz. One is that male mosquitoes are impossible to hear, because they buzz in a range above our hearing register. This is not actually true, since mosquitoes buzz at about 200 to 600 Hz, depending on sex -- either of which are easily audible to human ears, which pick up noises in the range between 20 and 20,000 Hz. Another myth is that sonic mosquito repellent devices use a male buzzing frequency to repel biting females, who theoretically will not approach because they have already mated by the time they are looking for blood and therefore won't want anything to do with the males. This, unfortunately, isn't true, as females don't seem to be repelled by males after mating. Opinions vary, but sonic devices are likely a waste of money.
- Live Science: Mosquitoes Harmonize To Find A Mate
- Mad Scientist Network: Re: Is Female Mosquitoes Buzz Too High-Pitched For Human Ears?
- Texas A&M AgriLife Extension: Many Mosquito Controls Only Hammer Buyer's Pocket
- Cornell University Chronicle: Mosquitoes Create Harmonic Love Song Before Mating, A Cornell Study Finds
- University of Illinois: Mosquito Facts
Sarah Moore has been a writer, editor and blogger since 2006. She holds a master's degree in journalism.