A very interesting study by Cornell University entomologists involved in developing non-chemical methods of mosquito control caught my ear this week. In a paper published in the February issue of Science magazine it was reported that sonic resonance is the key to inducing female mosquitoes to mate. The way it works is this. Male mosquitoes tend to flap their wings between 550 and 650 times per second while female’s wings move more slowly, generally between 350 and 450 beats a second. When you’re hearing the annoying buzz of a mosquito it is the movement of their wings that generates the sound, which comes in somewhere between 350 and 650 Hz.
What I found most fascinating is that the resonance sought by the mosquitoes is not a simple matching of frequencies, the male slowing down and the female speeding up until they both buzz somewhere in the middle, say at 500 Hz. Instead they both shoot to hit the next mutual overtone above 400 and 600 Hz which is around 1200 Hz. The male slows down or speeds up so that his wings beat exactly two times for every three of hers. When he gets it just right the convergence of the two frequencies produces the high pitched overtone. Only when the female hears the sweet spot in their mutual sonic field does she allow mating to happen.
What this says to me is that the pleasure one experiences from resonance and overtones is very deep in our DNA. There is something absolutely primal operating when one listens to profound sounds.