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Curr Biol. 2009 Mar 24;19(6):485-91. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2009.01.059. Epub 2009 Mar 12.

Sex Recognition through midflight mating duets in Culex mosquitoes is mediated by acoustic distortion.

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School of Life Sciences, University of Sussex, Falmer, Brighton BN1 9QG, UK.


Sexual recognition through wing-beat frequency matching was first demonstrated in Toxorhynchites brevipalpis, where wing-beat frequencies of males and females are similar. Here we show frequency matching in Culex quinquefasciatus, where the wing-beat frequencies of males and females differ considerably. The wing-beat frequencies converge not on the fundamental but on the nearest shared harmonic (usually female's third and male's second). Frequencies in this range are, however, too high to elicit phasic sensory-neural responses from the Johnston's organ (JO) or to drive the mosquito's motor neurons. Potential cues for frequency matching are difference tones produced by nonlinear mixing of male and female flight tones in the vibrations of the mosquito's antennae. Receptor potentials and neural-motor activity were recorded in response to difference tones produced when a mosquito was stimulated simultaneously by two tones at frequencies outside the phasic response range of the JO but within range of the antennal vibrations. We demonstrate sexual recognition through matching of flight-tone harmonics in Culex mosquitoes and suggest that difference tones are used as an error signal for frequency matching beyond the frequency range of the JO's sensory-neural range. This is the first report of acoustic distortion being exploited as a sensory cue, rather than existing as an epiphenomenon.

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