The Science of Sustainability

Why Do Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears?

  • share this article
  • Facebook
  • Email

Aedes albopictusI would write a brilliant blog tonight, but I am tired. Not because of bad dreams or pressure at work. No, I am sleepy because of a small winged, creature who snuck into my room and proceeded to offer a high pitched tone directly into my ear. When I turned on the lights to find it, it was not there. When I gave up and attempted sleep, buzzzz… or maybe zzzzinnng? I would find the perfect word, but as mentioned, I am too tired.

Dang mosquito.

Mosquitoes are actually the most dangerous animals in the world, killing more than two million people per year. In the United States alone, there are 150 different species, each carrying a different type of disease. The most common species found in the U.S. include the Aedes albopictus, Culex pipiens and Anopheles quadrimaculatus, but what I am interested in tonight is, why do they buzz? Why right in my ear? Why?

According to the West African tale, it happened this way: a mosquito said something foolish to the iguana who put sticks in his ears to hear no more of such foolishness. This frightened the next animal and thus created a chain of panic until a monkey killed an owlet which caused the mother owl to mourn and neglect her duties of waking the sun. The animals were furious with the mosquito. So, mosquitoes buzz in people's ears cause they are asking if everyone is still angry with them. I'm not buying it.

A ranger at a local park told me that since mosquitoes are attracted by the smell of carbon dioxide, given off by us when we exhale, perhaps the mosquitoes benefit from our jumping about when they try to buzz us, causing more breathing and more carbon goodness. Another expert said it was a little warning sign, a gift from nature, like a snake’s rattle. Another said the tone attracts the male. Then why in MY ear? Does anybody really know?

Here's a few things I do know:

I am now off to sleep with no answers, fearing another night of mystery buzz tones. If anyone can tell my why mosquitoes buzz in our ears, please do. With sleep and knowledge, I promise my next blog will be brilliant.

Amy Gotliffe is Conservation Manager at The Oakland Zoo.

Related

Explore: , , ,

Category: Biology, Health, Partners

  • share this article
  • Facebook
  • Email
Amy Gotliffe

About the Author ()

Amy Gotliffe is Conservation Manager at the Oakland Zoo. She is a Detroit transplant, enjoying the good Bay Area life for 17 years. She has a degree in communications, holds several teaching credentials and has a Masters Degree in Environmental Education. She has worked at various Bay Area educational and environmental institutions, teaching second grade, working on campaigns, planting pollinator gardens, producing earth day events and generally spreading the word about wildlife and green living. She currently works at The Oakland Zoo where she serves as the Conservation Manager. There, she coordinates support for international, national and local conservation efforts, produces a Conservation Speaker Series, produces the zoo's Earth Day event, leads eco-trips, teaches the various educational programs and heads up an on-site Green Team. On her list of other passions are travel, photography, music and the lindy hop. :-)
  • http://www.thetech.org/genetics/index.php Barry Starr

    Do scientists know why some people get bit more often than other people? When my wife and I are around mosquitoes, she is like a magnet. She gets all of the bites and I get hardly any.

    • Me

      Tell her to try Vitamin B1 tabs .. works like a charm

      • Goku Son

        what I did is that I sleep with a fan blowing on me mainly my face I don't hear buzzing but the fan its so nice I have good sleeps with a fan blowing on me I don't hear the mosquitos mainly cause they cant fight against the wind current so they don't come near you it also encourages you to use another blanket but I don't get bites on me in the mornings

  • http://ninjamonkeys.co.za Vaughn

    They buzz everywhere, but you only notice when they're going past your ear?

  • http://www.outsideinsight.net Judy

    Yes Barry this also happens to me – mosquitoes banquet on me while my husband seems to have an immunity of sorts most of the time. I'd also be interested in figuring that out :!

  • http://QuestScienceBlog Suzanne

    Does anyone know if mosquitoes sleep? I'm wondering most creatures do – it doesn't matter when you go outside in southern Louisiana, they are there. Thanks for any info

  • craig

    I've heard mosquitos go for the most "prominent" target. If your wife moves more than you (and breathes heavier), her motion attracts the insect more than you. She gets bit. A great mosquito defense is to move (and breath) less than your peers around you. Just like a cheetah goes for the sick and weak, mosquitos go for the moving and breathing. Also, some folks aren't as allergic to the enzyme that makes bites itch. So they may be getting bit, but not realize it as much.

    I found this thread because I am trying to learn about mosquito sleep and ambush behaviors. They seem to lie in wait in my grass until I appear. Yet, I can't see them when I look at the grass. They appear on me in about 10 seconds though. Do they sleep? If so where? In the grass? Holes in the dirt? On tree limbs?

  • Orlando

    Mosquitos go after warm spots through there millions of eyes. Because ears are in the head, where humans loose more body temperature, they go after them.

  • Buzz

    Why mosquitos buzz by your ear? They want you to try and slap your ear and face hard, so it would fill with blood, so they would have an easier time sucking it out! :P

  • Lavish

    Actually the One above me .. "Buzz" .. is not totally wrong ..
    Mosquitos , do want you to slap your ear … but why ..
    Easy .. they are smarter .. then what we think of them ..
    You see Mosquitos are attracted by Heat , you wont find them in freezy winters ..
    There are Two kinds of blood living beings .. Clod blood (Insects & some reptiles), Hot blood (Mamals , some reptiles, etcc ).. humans are hot blood living beings.. Thus for a cold blooded Mosquito to find blod is by finding heat in human body.. and while you sleep, normally in comforting bed, your eards become warmer .. and attract Mosquito.. NOW its not Finished.. i know my way of explaining is not very clear .. but pls bare .. so first factor of Heat – biology is clear ..
    now 2nd – throught experience every livingbeing learns and adopts to its best comfirt .. Through experience of ear slapping of humans when Mosquito go near it .. made them learn .. something .. That Buzzing in sweet Amy's ears .. will result in a Hand full of Blood coming out of the blanket to slap the ear .. and there is a good chance that this hand will remain uncovered after ..
    SO HERE YOU GO .. Its
    1 – A biological – Heat Attraction Factor
    2 – A lesson they Learnt to bait humans for Blood.

    In the end all I can say is ..

    Let the Mosquito do its living.. and You do yours .. TRY SLEEP.

    PS – May be Mosquito's Blog he has written an artcle about humans / amy .. that when ever I try to warn them that " Dont get disturbed I am just taking a bit of your blood for my children / eggs" Why the hell always starting slaping themselves and cursing the Mosquitos..

    Sleepwell
    Lavish

    • http://www.facebook.com/kurei.scott Kurei Scott

      Nice theory but it's wrong(I had the same theory as well as a few others). The sound is for mating.

      I've been told by someone who's been in the field over 20 years studying them.

  • memo

    i hate Mosquito's !! .. i hava an exam tomorrow ..and i cant sleep !!

    when i just close my eyes ..she know that and directly comes to me !!

    i swear they have brains !! ,,

  • Dale

    The mospuitos buzz in your ear to annoy you, and by annoying you your heart beats faster and your blood pressure increases, making more blood available for the female mosquito.

  • Georgina

    Do mosquitos ever sleep?

    Mosquitos go for the strongest smelling blood (the stanchest).

  • Utpal

    Mosquitoes bite (let us call it sawing on your skin) every portion of warn blooded living body that emits heat. This insect has a heat seeking device that the Mother Nature has embedded in the female for their next generation to survive. Mosquito do not sit on dead.

    However, regarding listening to buzz: Female anopheles mosquito is the one that only buzzes. You only hear buzzing because some of them fly near your ear, and please bear in mind, ear is an organ which is hotter than the rest of the body hence, buzz, and buzz and yet buzz.

    One practical experiment: In any warm summer evening, if you find a small cloud of mosquito hovering over your head, you will take if guaranteed that the mosquitoes there are in a frenzied mood of mating. Don’t believe me?? just try buzzing yourself, like pun————— using a nasal intonation and there, in split second, hundreds of mosquito (of course males ones) will take your nose to be a juicy, roly-poly and prime female to mate and jump on you to, to to to mate.

  • Kerry

    But why do mosquitoes buzz only at our ears? If I were the marker of this comprehension practice I would be terribly upset. You didn't answer the question at all!

  • sdgfsgd

    Sorry, last link was wrong, that was the iguana one lol, this is the real answer I meant…

    http://www.werecycle.net/Butler%20County%27s%20Mosquitobuzz.pdf

  • kenny

    seems to go against evolution to me. all it does is alert me and send me on a mosquito killing quest. i'm successful about 20% of the time.

  • Ann

    LOL, can I ever relate to your blog. I finally went out and got a mosquito net, which I now sleep under. I don't care if I live in CA, it is worth it to know the little monsters can't get at me while I'm asleep. Sweet dreams :)

  • Jeanette

    This may not be the answer, but something to think about. Maybe they buzz all the time, but you only hear it when they are near your ears…:)Maybe there wings flap so fast it makes an ear piercing sound which is the buzzing. I really think it is the female way of attracting the males to mate, but I'm not sure.

  • =jast=

    I've always wondered why they buzz around our ears when we are about to go to sleep. My thought was always; they are attracted to waz in our ears… still not satisfied. But blood could be true!

  • Annie

    AN ore

    • Owais

      Amy. I came across your blog as I was researching the same question online. Last night one of these creatures kept buzzing in my ear as well. I had bare arms and legs for it to feast on, yet it kept buzzing in my ear.

      The mystery remains…..

  • Sri

    I'm amazed that the discussion thread is still alive! But on 2nd thoughts, mosquitoes still prevail.
    I live in the tropics and I've reached this stage where i dont care anymore that they sucking my blood out. I just wish they were polite enough not to inform me about it!

  • Amy

    Yes! These small creatures seem to stir something in many of us. I suppose we are blessed that they are merely a nuisance, when in some parts of the world they can be so very dangerous.

  • miguel

    i hate when im trying to sleep then i hear "eeeeeeeeeeeee" then i cover my ears and I hear "eeeeeeeeeee" then I put my pillow and my blanket over my ear and hear "eeeeee" just as loud. THOSE THINGS ARE DEVILS!

    • Gabriel

      true, those animals are just blood-sucking creation of the devil

      • The devil

        yeh so what?

  • Facundo Cesa

    I've been trying to find this out for years…

  • nonon

    "If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito."
    – His Holiness, the Dalai Lama

    • chex

      my stupid smart phone clicked like and dislike about 1500000000000 timez. anywho i i really like this reply=]

  • ReneaD

    My nursing instructor told us that the cerumen (wax) in the ear smells similar to a female mosquito and the males are the ones buzzing near our ears to try to find the females. I'm having trouble finding it online but sounds good to me :)

  • nick

    I believe the reason they go for the ears is our chemical mammalian scent is exuded the most out of our ears. This opens up a controlled experiment. Count how many of those buggers you hear when your naked and fully clothed lying on the grass on a warm summer evening for a period of time, make sure to replicate the conditions. Have fun!

  • http://Www.yarmohammadi.com Shahab

    It definitely did not solve my problem! Typing this on a mobile device while lying on my bed after got woken up by mosquitos. So far killed two of them but seems like there's more. They only specially have the tendency to show up when i decide to go back to sleep! Terribly annoying creatures!

  • http://www.oaklandzoo.org Amy Gotliffe

    Considering I wrote this blog in 2007, I am amazed at the endless inspiration I keep getting from all of these comments. It is exciting that humans are endlessly fascinated with the natural world. It gives me hope. Thanks for sharing your ideas, your scrathes and your sleepless nights.
    Amy

    • http://www.questscience.org Mike Kahn

      Thanks, Amy! This does seem to be a timeless topic. And we just shared another mosquito story and included a link to this one in a QUEST Facebook post this week: http://ow.ly/n8vH7

  • chachi

    Amy! Fab site- yes its incredible we are still here and commenting on these naughty satanic creatures of the nocturne! So a couple of points- I agree with 'Goku Son' that the fan is mightier than the mozza! However The closer the fan- the harder it is to sleep and easier to acquire a minor headache in the morn from the constant buzz of the fan!!
    Did TONNES of online research last week and it turns out that B1 vitamins are considered one of the battle weapons (as commented here on Aug 17 too!) I am on the B1's, often burn citronella candles around me, burn aromatherapy tea-lights using Eucalyptus/ Tea tree oil, invested in mosquito repellent soap, deodorant AND am about to acquire a mosquito net!! The funniest thing…..?! Guess what- I don't even live remotely close to the Hot places in the equator….I am in London!! Great Britain is supposed to be cold, rainy and perhaps not usually linked to our little excitable sucking friends….well think again! x x x big kiss mozza 'fans' around the world!!

  • Arjun

    Hmm. The answer is quite simple, to think about. Mosquitoes buzz. And you hear it when they fly near your ear. Other times, they're too far away from your ear for you to hear.

    Besides, the heat attraction factor might also be there.

  • https://www.facebook.com/emmanuel.tio.9 Emmanuel Tio

    I think, mosquitoes buzz in peoples' ears because they just want to suck blood to survive. Blood is what they want and perhaps they sometimes pass by humans' ears accidentally that humans may not notice what they want. They want blood and humans are their target.

  • The devil

    I honestly think people are just overreacting, these little creatures have the same right as you humans to do what they please…i thought i was crule but you guys kill them all the time, they dont even want to murder anyone theyre just hungry ok? …gosh…you guys make me feel like i make these creatures with no purpose sometimes =/

    • Questioner

      And what makes you excluded from humanity?

  • Einstein

    They buzz everywhere. When they fly past your ear, you hear it because your ears are the parts of your body that you hear things with.

  • ms bieber

    i read the story

  • anonymous

    If you've been made aware that mozzies source their prey/victims by carbon dioxide strength, then why aren't you able to locate the one in your bedroom? I guarantee it will be on a curtain or wall approximately 1 metre from your bed. If you still can't find it then take deep breaths and breathe out a couple of feet from a wall, it will soon lambs at that location.
    Garlic doesn't keep them away, but Listerine does!

  • Buzz Grief

    That's not a mosquito by your ear. I have the mosquito buzzing ring-tone and let's just say don't turn on the light, or you're in for a fright :)

  • Sid3aff3ct

    I'm scared, right now I have one buzzing in my ear and everyonce in a while it gets closer. I'm hiding under the covers because I don't want it to bite me O.O

  • Dabud

    Bit even when there is no mosquito around I hear this constant buzz, why is this?

    • Dabud

      But"

  • Collie

    Actually There are no mosquitos in Iceland, which is not in Antarctica

    • Me

      That's definitely false. I was in Iceland a few weeks back and both my wife and I were bitten several times. They definitely have mosquitoes, especially in Reykjavik.