Visualizing Harmonic Convergence in Mosquito Mating
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Visualizing Harmonic Convergence in Mosquito Mating

Wow, what a summer!!! I have some exciting news to report…I didn’t get bit by ONE mosquito all summer!!! Just kidding, my project is a little more exciting than that! I did it! I successfully put together and executed a project that I was a little iffy about back in May, and developed a new-found love for mosquitoes [fake news, don’t tell them I said that!]. I now like to be referred to as the mosquito whisperer, so if you see me on the streets, I will not respond to any other name.

But now, let’s get to the good stuff! Last time you heard from me, I was getting ready to start recording male/female pairs of mosquitoes. Now, I have about 7,000 audio and video recordings of these interactions, and I couldn’t be happier with the data I collected! The goal for this stage of my research was to observe whether or not mosquitoes actually communicate with one another to signal their interest in mating, or basically flirt. Below are the visual results of this from the previous study.

For my own recordings, I was able to detect the presence of these interactions by importing my audio files into a computer program called Audacity. Within this program, I could convert the sound file into a spectrogram that was able to clearly show me the frequencies produced by the mosquitoes in the recording. What the heck am I talking about, you ask?? Below is one example of a recording spectrogram that revealed a converging interaction!

But before I get into explaining the scary pink and blue stuff above, let’s talk about how I got these recordings in the first place- that’s the fun part (minus the 500 times mosquitoes got loose in the lab and attacked all of my friends…losers)! About midway through the summer, I changed some of my methods to make my procedure a little easier and reduce the number of casualties caused from pinning my little friends onto insect pins…yeah, they were not happy with me when they woke up from their nap to find themselves stuck to a wire…but, you got to do what you got to do for science!!!!! At the beginning of the summer, I was using insect wax (a yummy combination of beeswax and rosin) to fix these guys to their new home, but it turned out that the wax wasn’t strong enough to keep the mosquitoes in place when they woke up, and more often than not, they flew right off of the pin and straight for my face. So, I decided to try pinning them with a tiny amount of superglue, and it worked magically! The trick was to touch the super glued side of the pin to the mosquito’s thorax (pictured below) instead of their abdomen, which is where I was attempting to pin them when I was using the insect wax. When I tried to pin their abdomen with superglue, sometimes their wings would get stuck to the pin, making it a little bit difficult to get a good recording when their wings couldn’t move… Instead, their thorax provided a perfect amount of surface area for the pin without interfering with their antennae or wings at all.

Once I adapted this method, pinning them was a breeze! I kid you not, I could probably pin 20 mosquitoes within 30 seconds. You’re impressed, I know, I was too…Below are a few examples of my mad skills.

      

Don’t they look so comfortable and happy!? Next, I set up my recording stands, which were actually 3D printed ‘micro-manipulators’ designed by Backyard Brains! My company is so cool… These stands were used to fix the mosquitoes, with the help of some silly putty, for the duration of the experiment. They were perfect.

 

Now I was ready to record!! Below is a beautiful video of one of my experiments (I’m a little proud of myself, can you tell?) Make sure you turn on your sound!!

 

How creepy is that??? These noises will be burned into my brain for the rest of my life! But isn’t it also super cool? You can definitely hear the difference in sound between the two sexes, but can you hear when they begin converging?? Listen again.

If you’re thinking that it happens roughly 20 seconds into the video, lasting about 15, you’re right!! But just to be safe and make sure that the noises we were hearing were indeed interactions, I imported both files into MATLAB for a closer look

Here you can see the two different frequencies of the female and male (though there is a bit of noise blocking the females’ fundamental frequency). The key to detecting an interaction is to look at the higher frequencies, up in the harmonics, around 1200 Hz because this is where convergence will normally occur. And lucky for us, it did! On camera!  I was so excited I just about packed up and called it a day, but I really wanted to see some more interactions, so I pinned 8 million more mosquitoes and got down to business! In the end, I was able to successfully record, both audio and video, 49 male/female pairs, observing interactions in 33 of them! That means, in the small sample size I had, the pairs would communicate a love interest to one another 67% of the time! Gross, get a room!!!!

Nearing the end of my time in Ann Arbor, I finally finished recording, throwing in the towel for my beloved new hobby, and I was ready to start processing my data in the hope of making it a little more ‘Hollywood’ as Greg would say! Little did I know, this process wasn’t as appealing as I first thought, and on multiple occasions I considered playing with some more mosquitoes just to get away from the madness known as MATLAB. Lucky for me, I had a MATLAB expert living with me (Hmmm…maybe that’s why we became best friends since she couldn’t escape me anytime I opened my computer to work!) Christy helped me create the most magical, color coded, satisfying and all around perfect video of not only my little buddies interacting, but also a spectrogram underneath it that played in perfect sync with the original video recording! Brace yourselves…you will never see anything more beautiful in your life…

 

 

If you caught yourself replaying it multiple times, don’t fret, as you will catch me playing it periodically throughout the day just for fun. I’m not a nerd. But look, I was successful!!!

We also presented our research at a poster symposium at University of Michigan!

So now is about the time where we wrap up!!! Ah don’t make me leave!!!! But I am so happy with the work I produced this summer and I feel so lucky that I got the chance to be part of this program. Greg Gage, you are the best boss I have ever had (don’t tell that to my dad since he’s the only other boss I’ve had…) and I will be forever thankful for the impact you had on my life as not only a researcher but also an individual. I love you and your family to pieces, especially your little ones that taught me all about Peppa Pig, and are still convinced my name is ‘Dirt’. Wonder where they got that…cough, cough, Christy. I already miss you guys, and I haven’t even left Ann Arbor yet! I’d also like to thank all of the staff at Backyard Brains (Stanislav, Zorica, Will, Zach, Caty, Catherine and John), who made my time here so worthwhile and comfortable- I never felt alone even when my MATLAB would crash, or when my fellow interns would shun me for letting some mosquitoes loose in the lab…

And last but not least, thank you to all of the BYB interns that made this summer one for the books! You will all be a part of my life forever, and I can’t wait to see where our lives take us once we leave each other this evening. You’re all such wonderful people, and I couldn’t have asked for better friends. Love you guys!!

Backyard Brains forever!!!! (Tattoo idea, interns?????)


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