Male mosquitoes are attracted by the flight sounds of conspecific females. In males only, the antennal flagellum bears a large number of long hairs and is therefore said to be plumose. As early as 1855, it was proposed that this remarkable antennal anatomy served as a sound-receiving structure. In the present study, the sound-induced vibrations of the antennal flagellum in male and female Aedes aegypti were compared, and the functional significance of the flagellar hairs for audition was examined. In both males and females, the antennae are resonantly tuned mechanical systems that move as simple forced damped harmonic oscillators when acoustically stimulated. The best frequency of the female antenna is around 230 Hz; that of the male is around 380 Hz, which corresponds approximately to the fundamental frequency of female flight sounds. The antennal hairs of males are resonantly tuned to frequencies between approximately 2600 and 3100 Hz and are therefore stiffly coupled to, and move together with, the flagellar shaft when stimulated at biologically relevant frequencies around 380 Hz. Because of this stiff coupling, forces acting on the hairs can be transmitted to the shaft and thus to the auditory sensory organ at the base of the flagellum, a process that is proposed to improve acoustic sensitivity. Indeed, the mechanical sensitivity of the male antenna not only exceeds the sensitivity of the female antenna but also those of all other arthropod movement receivers studied so far.
- © 1999 by Company of Biologists