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Accumulating behavioural data indicate that aggregation pheromones may mediate the formation and maintenance of mosquito swarms. However, chemical cues possibly luring mosquitoes to swarms have not been adequately investigated, and the likely molecular incitants of these complex reproductive behaviours remain unknown. Here we show that males of the important malaria vector species Anopheles arabiensis and An. gambiae produce and release aggregation pheromones that attract individuals to the swarm and enhance mating success. We found that males of both species released significantly higher amounts of 3-hydroxy-2-butanone (acetoin), 6-methyl-5-hepten-2-one (sulcatone), octanal, nonanal and decanal during swarming in the laboratory. Feeding males with stable-isotope-labelled glucose revealed that the males produced these five compounds. A blend composed of synthetic analogues to these swarming odours proved highly attractive to virgin males and females of both species under laboratory conditions and substantially increased mating in five African malaria vectors (An. gambiae, An. coluzzii, An. arabiensis, An. merus and An. funestus) in semi-field experiments. Our results not only narrow a conspicuous gap in understanding a vital aspect of the chemical ecology of male mosquitoes but also demonstrate fundamental roles of rhythmic and metabolic genes in the physiology and behavioural regulation of these vectors. These identified aggregation pheromones have great potential for exploitation against these highly dangerous insects. Manipulating such pheromones could increase the efficacy of malaria-vector control programmes.

Original publication





Nature ecology & evolution

Publication Date



Laboratory of Chemical and Behavioural Ecology, Institute of Ecology, Nature Research Centre, Vilnius, Lithuania.