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Playing Skrillex May Help Ward Off Mosquito Bites

The EDM artist’s mix of very high and low frequency beats discourages the insects from biting victims, having sex

Skrillex's Grammy-winning “Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites” could help researchers discourage the spread of mosquito-borne diseases (Public domain)
smithsonian.com

Skrillex holds the record for most Grammys won by an electronic dance music (EDM) artist, but a new study published in Acta Tropica suggests the dubstep DJ and producer has at least one major critic: Aedes aegypti, or the yellow fever mosquito.

As Brandon Specktor reports for Live Science, a team of international researchers found that female mosquitoes forced to listen to Skrillex—in particular, the song “Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites”—on repeat for 10 minutes were less likely to have sex and feed on unwitting victims than those not exposed to the Grammy-winning track.

Given the fact that these behaviors are directly responsible for the transmission of mosquito-borne diseases including Zika virus, dengue fever and yellow fever, the results could have significant implications for public health, offering a novel, environmentally friendly alternative to pesticides.

“Sound and its reception are crucial for reproduction, survival, and population maintenance of many animals,” the scientists write in their paper. “In insects, low-frequency vibrations facilitate sexual interactions, whereas noise disrupts the perception of signals.”

According to Specktor, “Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites,” a four-minute single from Skrillex’s 2010 EP of the same name, features “excessive loudness and constantly escalating pitch.” The Telegraph further notes that the track includes a mix of “very high and very low frequencies,” making it an ideally noisy candidate for an experiment aimed at gauging electronic music’s effect on mosquito mating and blood feeding.

For the study, the researchers played Skrillex via a speaker placed by a cage filled with food-deprived female mosquitoes, one male mosquito and one very unfortunate restrained hamster. The team also created a silent control cage.

Live Science’s Specktor explains that the Skrillex group was so distracted (the study itself refers to the mosquitoes as “entertained with music”) its members failed to track down their prey until around two to three minutes had passed. Once they finally managed to find the hamster, the sound-overwhelmed mosquitoes made fewer feeding attempts than their noise-free counterparts, which identified their hapless victim after an average of just 30 seconds.

The same trend proved true when it came to insect copulation. Confused by the music’s “aggressive, noisy vibrations," writes Vice’s Gavin Butler, the mosquitoes likely struggled to perform a mating ritual involving synchronized wing-beats. Overall, the Skrillex mosquitoes had five times less sex than those in the silent cage.

The new research adds to a growing body of literature surrounding music’s influence on insect behavior. In July 2018, for example, a study published in Ecology and Evolution revealed that female beetles exposed to AC/DC tracks lose their appetite for aphids, leading to an unwanted boom in the pests’ population. Comparatively, Tom Jacobs notes for Pacific Standard, beetles that listened to country music by Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings exhibited the same level of aphid-eating enthusiasm as those dining in silence.

Although the latest study represents a positive step in the fight against mosquito-borne disease, Science Alert’s Jacinta Bowler writes that music and noise aren’t always beneficial to insect populations—or, for that matter, flora and fauna in general.

Still, as the Skrillex researchers summarize, “The observation that such music can delay host attack, reduce blood feeding, and disrupt mating provides new avenues for the development of music-based personal protective and control measures against Aedes-borne diseases.”

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