Hold your breath: carbon dioxide triggers exploratory behaviour in mosquitoes to help find hosts

A female mosquito feeding on a hapless victim.
A female mosquito feeding on a hapless victim.

Smack!

The tranquility of a lakeside sunset, disturbed by my attempts to stop bloodthirsty mosquitos from eating me as supper. I don’t know why mosquitoes think I’m a more appetizing meal than my camping companions but thanks to a new study, I now have a better understanding of how they hone in on targets such as myself.

Mosquitoes rely on a number of different cues to find their hosts. These include the heat and scents we emit, the humidity generated when our sweat evaporates and the carbon dioxide that we breathe out. What is less well known is how these different cues interact with and influence one another. For example, does sensing one cue help a mosquito pick up on other cues? That’s the question Dr. Michael Dickinson at the California Institute of Technology tried to answer. Together with colleagues at the University of Washington, his team showed that carbon dioxide triggers mosquitoes to explore visual elements in their environment, which in turn guides them to potential hosts.

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