Skrillex as mosquito repellent

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"Dubstep artist Skrillex could protect against mosquito bites", BBC News 4/1/2019:

The sun is shining on your skin, there's a breeze in your hair and someone has just handed you a coconut with a straw sticking out of it. This is living.

But just as you start to relax you find yourself clawing at your own skin, scratching at the mosquito bites that have developed on your body over the past few days.

But it doesn't have to be this way.

According to a recent scientific study, the way to avoid mosquito bites is to listen to electronic music – specifically dubstep, specifically by US artist Skrillex.

OK, it's April Fool's Day. And BBC Science Reporting is traditionally prone to credulous Weird Science stories, especially about animals ("It's always silly season in the (BBC) science section", 8/26/2006). So this will turn out to be a joke, or maybe click-bait exaggeration of some marginal results about mosquitoes' response to sounds, right?

Apparently not. The Beeb links us to Hamady Dieng et al., "The electronic song 'Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites' reduces host attack and mating success in the dengue vector Aedes aegypti", Acta Tropica 3/25/2019.

Acta Tropica is a real and apparently respectable journal, described as

… an international journal on infectious diseases that covers public health sciences and biomedical research with particular emphasis on topics relevant to human and animal health in the tropics and the subtropics.

Its scope includes the biology of pathogens and vectors, host-parasite relationships, mechanisms of pathogenicity, clinical disease and treatment, and we welcome contributions in basic or applied research in disciplines such as epidemiology, disease ecology, diagnostics, interventions and control, mathematical modeling, public health and social sciences, climate change, parasite and vector taxonomy, host and parasite genomics, biochemistry and immunology and vaccine testing.

And the Dieng et al. paper reports on an experiment in which:

Ae. aegypti females showed significant variations in response time to the presence of a host related to audio player status (Mann–Whitney U test, z = 2.98, P = 0. 001). Females showed a delayed response to the presence of a host when the music was playing (131.30 ± 19.04 s, range 17 – 235 s) compared to when the player was turned off (35.22 ± 11.06 s, range 12 – 115 s). […]

The time to first biting attempt of Ae. aegypti varied appreciably according to the audio player status (Mann–Whitney U test, z = 2.57, P = 0. 005). The time taken by females to initiate probing on the host skin in the music-off environment was 82.44 ± 23.11 s (rangem21 – 235 s), while the corresponding time for the music-on environment was 191.70 ± 29.69 s (range 69 – 372 s). […]

Although Ae. aegypti females visited the host regardless of whether the music was on or off, the visitation level differed significantly between the two conditions. The mean  number of visits to the host in the music-off environment was 11.72 ± 1.29 (range 3 – 8) visits, while the corresponding value when the audio player was turned on was 7.00 ± 1.19 (range 2 – 12) visits (Mann–Whitney U test, z = 2.14, P = 0. 015). […]

Ae. aegypti females provided with an opportunity to take blood meals from a live host fed under both conditions with different sound levels (music-on and music-off conditions), but at different rates. The mean proportion of feeding events was significantly lower in the music-on environment compared to the music-off environment (4.00 ± 0.55 (range 2 – 7) vs. 6.63 ± 0.85 (range 1 – 11), respectively; Mann–Whitney U test, z = 2.28, P = 0.011).

Copulas were observed when Ae. aegypti females and lone males were allowed to cohabit in both the music-off and music-on environments, but their occurrence differed between the two conditions. Copulation was extremely rare when adults were exposed to music (mean number of copulation events: 0.90 ± 0.40, range 0 – 4), while the mean number was 5.18 ± 0.99 (range 1 – 12) in the music-off environment. This difference was significant (Mann–Whitney U test, z = 3.20, P < 0. 001).

It's somewhat weird that they only tested one type of sound, namely  the song 'Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites' by Skrillex. Or at least, they only report results for that particular song, and they don't tell us what led them to formulate the oddly specific hypothesis that 'Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites' would inhibit mosquito feeding and breeding.

(Though listening to the song gives me some sympathy for the mosquitoes…)

But anyhow, this time the Beeb was basically just presenting the content of the scientific paper.

[h/t Lane Greene]



  1. Robert said,

    April 1, 2019 @ 5:35 pm

    I skimmed this quickly, and thought it said Justin Bieber wants us to listen to Martin Shkreli.

  2. JB said,

    April 1, 2019 @ 7:20 pm

    This reminds me of the putative anti-mosquito properties of the Pu'An Mantra, which, when recited rapidly, produces a buzzing, droning sound that wouldn't be out of place on an avant-garde electronic record.

  3. ajay said,

    April 4, 2019 @ 5:02 am

    Skrillex: mosquitos:: Mahler: yobs, apparently.

    The scope for trying this method on other pests is significant. Could pigeons be deterred from muting on statues by a spot of Tom Lehrer?

  4. Ryan said,

    April 4, 2019 @ 8:25 am

    They write in the discussion, "We used this electronic song in the experiments due to its loudness and pitch, which are two factors considered to contribute to noisiness."

    This strikes me as fairly sloppy science. Why not manipulate these factors directly?

  5. Andrew Usher said,

    April 4, 2019 @ 6:16 pm

    Right; however such stuff nowadays gets published all the time. As long as you make it sound scientific, it's OK.

    But it definitely makes this 'too ridiculous to be made up'.

    k_over_hbarc at

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