To do so, they examined mosquitoes and their patterns. They found that the bugs can quickly learn and remember the smells of hosts as they store that information to develop preferences for particular agents.
However, they also pick up on movement, such as swatting. In fact, they can learn to associate an odor with an unpleasant gesture, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
They tested their theory by training the mosquitoes to pair a scent from a person or animal with a “mechanical shock,” which simulated swatting. The insects soon noticed the link between the two senses and flew in a different direction away from the hosts.
“Once mosquitoes learned odors in an aversive manner, those odors caused aversive responses on the same order as responses to DEET, which is one of the most effective mosquito repellents,” senior author Jeff Riffel said in a statement.
The scientists also discovered that dopamine is essential to mosquito learning, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. During the second part of the study, they monitored the neurons in their brains. They found that without dopamine, “those neurons were less likely to fire,” leaving the mosquitoes with less ability to retain information.
“By understanding how mosquitoes are making decisions on whom to bite, and how learning influences those behaviors, we can better understand the genes and neuronal bases of the behaviors,” said Riffell. “This could lead to more effective tools for mosquito control.”
Researchers now want to further their investigations to determine how mosquitoes learn and remember sensations connected to their favored hosts.