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Knowing more about how insects sense humidity could improve mosquito control

For the first time, researchers have succeeded in describing how insects sense humidity. The discovery of the genes and neural pathways that enable insects to sense the humidity in the air could lead to effective methods for mosquito control.
A fly sitting on a straw, both full of dew.
Photo: Richard Bartz

Biologists Marcus Stensmyr and Anders Enjin at the Faculty of Science at Lund University in Sweden, together with colleagues in the US, have described the insects’ “sixth sense”. The studies were conducted on fruit flies.

In the future, these findings could form the basis for new methods of insect control, including mosquitoes. One way of keeping insect populations in check could be to impair the mosquitoes’ ability to find suitable bodies of water in which to lay their eggs. 

“Mosquitoes use their sense of humidity to home in on humans to sting, but also to locate humid environments in which to lay their eggs. So their sense of humidity could be a new target to aim at when attempting to control mosquitoes”, says Marcus Stensmyr.

The findings could also be important from another point of view:

“By learning to understand how insects respond to different air humidity levels, we can get better at predicting what will happen to insect populations as the climate warms up”, says Anders Enjin. 

The findings have been published in an article in the scientific journal Current Biology.

Written by Jan Olsson

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