There has been quite a buzz about some new research that suggests the music playing at your next backyard party may keep the mosquitoes at bay. Could it actually be true?
“As music is loved by many people, the development of music-based anti-mosquito control measures may represent an appealing alternative to strategies involving the use of harmful chemical insecticides.” – Dieng et al. 2019
Are mosquitoes monsters or sprites?
The study was recently published in the peer-reviewed journal Acta Tropica. The researchers (including one of my previous PhD students) exposed mosquitoes to the song “Scary Monsters And Nice Sprites” by U.S. electronic dub-step artist Skrillex while recording how long it took Aedes aegypti (these are the mosquitoes that transmit dengue viruses) to find a blood meal, how long they spent feeding, as well as tracking how much time was spent mating. The “blood meal” was provided by a restrained hamster and all experiments were conducted in the laboratory.
“Adults entertained with music copulated far less than their counterparts kept in the environment where there was no music entertainment.” – Dieng et al. 2019
Unfortunately, the researchers didn’t explain why they decided to use this particular song, only describing it as “…characterized as noisy based on the resulting vibragram and strong sound pressure/vibration with constantly rising pitches”. It would have been interesting to include a couple of other songs in the testing too. Perhaps something a little more downbeat?
Once they had the song playing (ensuring the speakers weren’t located close enough to cause vibration to the cage containing mosquitoes), mosquitoes were released into the cage and behaviour was recorded for 10 minutes. Researchers recorded the time to first blood feeding attempt, number of blood feeding events, and number of mating events.
The results were interesting. Mosquitoes took longer to find a host, spent less time blood feeding and mated less often when exposed to the music. These differences in each measurement were statistically different too.
What does this mean for prevention of mosquito-borne disease?
This study has received plenty of media attention. See here and here and here. I spoke to ABC Sydney about it too (tune in from the 1:07).
While the results demonstrated some reduced likelihood of biting, it shouldn’t be interpreted that playing Skrillex’s music will protect yourself from mosquito bites. The reduced likelihood was pretty short lived, you’re pretty much guaranteed to get bitten despite the dub step blasting from the boombox.
There has always been an interest in understanding how sound impacts the behaviour of mosquitoes. Ultrasonic insect repellents have been sold in one way or another for a couple of decades. Now you can download apps to your smartphone that purport to use sound to repel mosquitoes. There really is no evidence that sound can provide protection from mosquito bites.
Digging deeper into the “Skrillex study”, the results indicate that even though there may be less chance you’ll be bitten while listening to this music, you’ll still be bitten. Even over the relatively short exposure periods in the laboratory study, the mosquitoes were still biting. Notwithstanding your tolerance of Skrillex’s brand of electronic music, who knows how loud you need to be playing it or how shifts in songs (and their associated pitches, frequencies, buzzes, and beats) may change the activity of local mosquitoes.
To prevent mosquito-borne disease, you need to stop all bites, not just some of them. Topical insect repellents will still provide better protection. Keep in mind that even a low dose DEET-based insect repellent will prevent all bites from Aedes aegypti for a few hours in laboratory testing.
See the full paper here:
Join the conversation on Twitter, if music could keep mosquitoes away, what music would you want that to be?