Picture this: You’re spending a balmy summer day lounging poolside, book in hand. Everything is absolute bliss, until suddenly, you hear an all-too-familiar buzzing noise hovering by your ear. The mosquitos are out, and it’s only a matter of time before they descend on your SPF-protected skin. Before you retreat indoors, however, you might want to try your hand at the classic bugs-be-gone trick that’s now backed by science: swatting.
Swiping at a mosquito is far from a novel technique when it comes to braving the great outdoors. (How many of you remember the childhood song “Shoo, Fly, Don’t Bother Me”?) But according to a study published by Current Biology earlier this year, the old-school method is a lot more effective than you may think.
To test if these pests could learn to stay away from humans (you know, like the conditioned response Pavlov tested on dogs), researchers rounded up Aedes aegypti mosquitoes and tempted them with the human scent that the insects find highly alluring: eau de Homo sapiens, if you will. Then they started a 20-minute session of vibrations that disturbed mosquitos mid-bite in the same way a human slap would, National Geographic reports. Lo and behold, after repeated vibrations, the insects avoided that same human scent for 24 hours, suggesting that swatting a mosquito could be as effective as DEET insect repellant.
“Now that we know that some compounds trigger this memory of avoidance, one could possibly use a formulation that not only includes an active repellent, like DEET, but also includes some compound that would trigger the memory of avoidance.” —Dr. Jeff Riffell, lead study author
Besides giving you scientific reassurance that swatting those flying bugs like a madwoman is actually productive, the research could help scientists develop a better method for diminishing the illnesses transmitted by mosquitos, the study’s lead researcher, Jeff Riffell, PhD, says. “Now that we know that some compounds trigger this memory of avoidance, one could possibly use a formulation that not only includes an active repellent, like DEET, but also includes some compound that would trigger the memory of avoidance.”
So basically, Pavlov’s classical conditioning could one day squash the mosquito’s status as the most dangerous, disease-carrying insect on the planet, making slapping not only a game-changer for your day at the pool but also for the health of humans worldwide.
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