The ability to learn plays a key role in tuning and adapting the behaviours of animals for their unpredictable biotopes. This also applies to insect vectors of disease. Anautogenous mosquitoes need to find both sugar and blood for survival and reproduction. Learning processes are expected to contribute to a mosquito's ability to undertake repeated feeding behaviours more efficiently with time, serving to decrease energy demands and avoid hazards. Here we report how visual learning by the Afrotropical malaria mosquito Anopheles gambiae allows it to readily associate visual cues with the quality of a sugar source. Circular black and white patterns were used as visual cues. An. gambiae females were conditioned in cages with a chequered pattern paired with sucrose and a concentric pattern paired with non-palatable sucrose-NaCl and with reverse combinations. Hours later, significantly higher numbers of feeding attempts were counted on sucrose paired with the chequered pattern following conditioning with the same combination. This was also the case on the concentric pattern paired with sucrose following conditioning with this combination. However, the effect was weaker than with sucrose paired with the chequered pattern. These findings indicate a differential capacity of visual stimuli to induce learning, explained in our experiments by a significantly higher mosquito appetence on sucrose paired with a chequered pattern that mimics floral shape. Training that induced a higher propensity for feeding attempts was found to allow the females to display a fast learning curve (<4 min) on the less suitable concentric pattern paired with sucrose, several hours after conditioning on the chequered pattern paired with sucrose. This has important implications for mosquito behavioural ecology, suggesting that An. gambiae shows plasticity in its learning capacities that would allow it to readily turn to alternative sources for a sugar meal once initiated in the process by an appropriate stimulus combination.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Insect Science