Why Do Mosquitoes Buzz?

Author: Mosquito Squad of Greater Washington DC

The mosquito’s buzz is annoying, but it’s also a helpful warning sound that lets you know when it’s time to swat the thirsty pest! Either way, the buzz is a fascinating phenomenon.

We’ve gotten this question before, so this week we’re giving you the answer to:

Why Do Mosquitoes Buzz?

There’s a popular children’s book that retells a West African folk tale explaining the mosquito’s nagging noise.

Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears (by Verna Aardema) tells of a mosquito, who offends an iguana with a tall tale. This causes a chain reaction through the forest, startling various animals in the community and leading to disaster. The resulting meeting of animals reveals that the mosquito is the one who caused all this trouble. So, she is forever plagued with a guilty conscience and buzzes in people’s ears to ask if they are still mad at her. (Hint: They are!)

It’s a cute story, but of course, there is a real scientific answer…

What Causes the Mosquito Buzzing Noise?

Dr. Richard Pollack, an entomologist at the Harvard School of Public Health, explains that the sound mosquitoes make from the flapping of their wings. The frequency of the wingbeat varies by species. Each species has a fairly narrow frequency range, but this can be adjusted to respond to other mosquitoes of the same species. We’ll explain why that’s important in a bit.

According to MosquitoReviews.com, the noise isn’t caused by the wings beating against the air. There’s an organ at the base of the mosquito’s wings that scrapes and makes the buzzing noise when the wings beat. This was discovered in 1902 when two British entomologists wrote a paper on it.

Pollack says that the mosquito we often hear buzzing in our ears is probably the Culex mosquito. They tend to bite around our faces because they are attracted to the carbon dioxide we breathe out. Other species tend to focus on other areas, such as around your feet or ankles, so you probably wouldn’t hear their buzz from so far away.

Myths About Mosquito Buzzing

A common myth is that only female mosquitoes buzz. This is not true. Both males and females buzz, but we don’t hear the males buzz because they don’t hang around us looking for their next meal.

Another common myth is that mosquitoes buzz to simply annoy people. Pollack cites that the buzzing noise is not intended to irritate. Instead, it is a behavior that assists them in mating. The mosquito’s buzz is like a love song, and both males and females can change the frequency of their tune to find each other and mate.

Why Is Understanding Mosquito Buzzing Important?

The buzz may seem like a trivial matter, but studying mosquito songs and other mating behavior can help scientists develop ways to prevent mating, and therefore control populations and stop the spread of mosquito-borne illnesses. In that case, mosquito buzzing is extremely beneficial!

If mosquitoes are buzzing in your ears and driving you crazy, contact DC Mosquito Squad today so we can help you reclaim your backyard!