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"Buzz Feed" -- The Discovery Files

The Discovery Files
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Most mosquitoes in a species called Wyeomyia smithii refuse blood meals in favor of sweet floral nectar. New research is helping to explain the evolutionary genetics of the switch from blood sucker to flower fanatic.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

Vegan mosquitoes?

I'm Bob Karson with the Discovery Files, from the National Science Foundation.

(Sound effect: outdoor summer sounds) (Sound effect: cartoon mosquito buzz under) On warm, muggy summer nights, we humans unwittingly become a buzz-feeding bistro for hordes of hungry mosquitoes. (Sound effect: slap!) (Sound effect: buzzing stops) Researchers at the University of Oregon and Ohio State tell us the little buggers' seemingly insatiable appetite for blood is not universal. There is a species of mosquito that prefers the nectar of flower blooms to blood.

For the study, a very helpful aspect of this "vegan" mosquito species is that some in their ranks, that live in Florida are still bloodsuckers giving the team a chance to compare genetic differences within the same species.

Blood-eaters had more "odor-sniffing" genes. Flower-huggers, more genes that deal with light sensitivity. One set of traits better at sniffing out blood, the other for visually finding flowers. The vegetarian preference may have also evolved due to environmental factors -- including us. Our constant slapping and swatting. Some segments of the population went for a safer meal to survive.

The researchers say a blood meal is like our Thanksgiving dinner -- it stresses mosquitoes' bodies and makes them slow -- more vulnerable. Evolution wise, not necessarily the best way to ensure survival. Next step: Find the triggers that could genetically turn off a mosquito's taste for blood.

(Sound effect: mosquito buzzing) For now, we're still the main course.

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