Mosquitoes: Hunters by Smell

Site Team

The gnat is one of the living things referred to by God in the Qur'an.

Could you find the origin of a scent 64 kilometers (39.8 miles) away by using only your sense of smell? Of course not! It's impossible for you to detect a scent from so far away. Yet mosquitoes detect smells at an analogous distance, which would be out of the question for you.

This fact was discovered by Professor Jerry Butler of Florida University. As is well known, for her eggs to develop, the female mosquito needs blood as well as certain chemical substances including cholesterol and Vitamin B that she cannot manufacture herself. These she obtains from human beings or animals. Professor Butler's studies revealed that the female mosquito does not select at random the prey whose blood she will suck. She prefers creatures that will meet her needs in the best possible way and in particular, uses her sense of smell to locate them. According to Butler, mosquitoes' sense of smell is so specialized that they can identify the minute amounts of chemicals that the human body gives off into the air.

Smells originating from the human body, carbon dioxide given off during exhalation and other scents are constantly disseminated into the air. The female mosquito is equipped to detect them, and finds her prey by zigzagging among the scent molecules, then locating the location of a surface artery, using a heat detector with pinpoint accuracy.

The way that an insect 1 centimeter (0.4 inch) in length smells her prey from many meters (feet) away and also analyses that scent, is a most striking phenomenon. The mosquito's highly developed olfactory sense is just one of the magnificent pieces of equipment in its body—and an important fact of creation that once again allows humans to realize the flawless nature of God's creation. The sense of smell in the mosquito, which many people regard as an unremarkable insect, is just one of the countless proofs of creation.

It is revealed in the Qur'an, as follows:

God is not ashamed to make an example of a gnat or of an even smaller thing. As for those who believe, they know it is the truth from their Lord. But as for those who disbelieve, they say, "What does God mean by this example?" He misguides many by it and guides many by it. But He only misguides the deviators. (Surat al-Baqara: 26)

There is only one explanation for the perfect sense of smell possessed by the mosquito, its superior flight mechanism and its other systems. This insect, encountered every day in warm weather but so often underestimated, is full of miracles of design and is by itself a major proof of creation.

In Surah Al-Hajj, God reveals:

O humanity! An example has been made, so listen to it carefully. Those whom you call upon besides God are not even able to create a single fly, even if they were to join together to do it. And if a fly steals something from them, they cannot get it back. How feeble are both the seeker and the sought! (Surat al-Hajj: 73)

Moths' Astonishing Ability

Thanks to the special creation in their antennae, which have hundreds of minute hairs on them, moths have very powerful senses of smell. This enables them to identify foodstuffs with a high nutritional value, as well as potential mates.

Moths are insects that live on every continent, apart from the Polar Regions and the oceans, and there are thought to be up to a million different species. The two antennae on the head of this tiny creature serve as its olfactory organs. Each antenna is covered in hundreds of minute hairs, with scent-receptor cells on each hair. This special design of its antennae makes the moth quite expert in detecting smells.

Moths use their scent perception to determine what has nutritional value and what may be harmful. In addition, when mating time comes, the female emits a special pheromone, which the male detects and locates the female by flying directly towards its source. At this point, there is one matter that requires consideration. The male often flies for several kilometers (miles) to locate the female. Male silk moths, for example, can perceive the female's pheromone from 20 kilometers (12 miles) away, or even further. No doubt the sensitivity of this tiny creature's olfactory organs is truly stunning.

But how is a male moth able to locate the female of its own species from among the thousands of different species of moths in its region? The moth's sensitive sense perception helps answer that question. To cite one example: the male of Helicoverpa zea, a species of moth that lives in North America, can distinguish the source of two different pheromones less than 1 millimeter (0.04 inch) apart.

Researchers have performed various experiments by installing minute receptors on moths' antennae—in other words, on their olfactory organs. As the male moth flew towards a pheromone inside a tunnel, electrical signals transmitted by its antennae to its brain were recorded. It was observed that as soon as the moth encountered a cloud of pheromones, the signals from its antennae changed.

C. Giovanni Galizia of the University of Berlin states that the moth's scent- perception system may be most ideally suited to detecting smells in powerful winds. This perfect system in an animal just a few millimeters (inches) in size is an evident miracle of Creation.

How Bees Communicate by Smell

Bees are able to identify by scent bees that do not belong to their hive.

Pheromones are one of the methods by which bees communicate among themselves. The tens of thousands of bees in a colony use these chemical signals to communicate with one another. (Ants communicate in a similar way.) Bees recognize other members of their own colony by their distinctive scent. If a bee from another hive seeks to enter, it is immediately identified by its scent and ejected. Having consumed the last of a flower's nectar, the bee marks it with a special scent— which other bees can then detect and thus avoid wasting their time and energy.

Every bee possesses an olfactory system to detect the messages borne by pheromones. Their scent receptors are located in the antennae. Sathees Chandra, a researcher into bees, states that when it comes to scent detection, bees are very capable. Bees need nectar in order to make honey. For that reason they visit a great number of plants and soon learn which provide the most nectar. Bearing this in mind, scientists concluded that bees must have special mechanisms that allow them to identify plant scents. Thanks to this mechanism, they filter the information they receive from plants and determine which will offer them the most nectar. There is only one explanation for the conscious and rational behavior of these tiny insects' detecting scents. Like all living things in the universe, bees were brought into being by the will of God, and behave according to His inspiration.

This is revealed in these terms in the Qur'an:

Your Lord revealed to the bees: "Build dwellings in the mountains and the trees, and also in the structures which men erect. Then eat from every kind of fruit and travel the paths of your Lord, which have been made easy for you to follow." From inside them comes a drink of varying colors, containing healing for humanity. There is certainly a Sign in that for people who reflect. (Surat an-Nahl: 68-69)

Related Articles with Mosquitoes: Hunters by Smell

  • Scent Perception in Birds

    Site Team

    Up until around 30 years ago, the general scientific view was that birds could smell almost nothing at all. But it

    22/12/2009 3219
  • The Role of the Sense of Smell in Taste Perception

    Site Team

      The Role of the Sense of Smell in Taste Perception The sense of smell plays a very important

    10/12/2009 4435
  • Scent Memory

    Site Team

    cent Memory Thanks to scent memory, an aroma you smelled as a child can be recognized many years later.

    10/12/2009 3149