Nonlinear auditory mechanism enhances female sounds for male mosquitoes

Jackson, Joseph C. and Robert, Daniel (2006) Nonlinear auditory mechanism enhances female sounds for male mosquitoes. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 103 (45). pp. 16734-16739. ISSN 0027-8424 (

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Sound plays an important role in the life history of mosquitoes. Male mosquitoes detect females by the sound generated by their wingbeat. Because female wings are weak acoustic radiators, males have been driven by sexual selection to evolve sensitive acoustic sensors. Mosquito antennae are very sensitive acoustic receivers, featuring up to 16,000 sensory cells, a number comparable with that contained in the human cochlea. The antennal sound receiver exhibits frequency selectivity, input amplification, and self-generated oscillations, features that parallel the functional sophistication of the cochlear amplifier. Although arguably the male antenna is well suited to receiving weak female sounds, the role of active mechanisms in mosquito hearing is far from understood. Previous mechanical studies on mosquito hearing largely focused on the steady-state antennal response to harmonic sounds, mostly evaluating the data through conventional Fourier transforms. Here, we report on the time-resolved mechanical behavior of the male antenna in response to female sounds. Crucially, stimuli were designed to reflect the temporal acoustic profile of a female flying by. With these stimuli, several previously unreported nonlinear features were unveiled, involving amplification, compression, and hysteresis. The time-resolved analysis reveals that, through the active participation of the sensory neurons, the antenna mechanically responds to enlarge its own range of detection. This behavior augments the capacity of the antennal receiver to detect female sounds, enhancing the male's chance to successfully pursue a passing female.