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01.12.2012 | Research | Ausgabe 1/2012 Open Access

Malaria Journal 1/2012

Visual and olfactory associative learning in the malaria vector Anopheles gambiae sensu stricto

Malaria Journal > Ausgabe 1/2012
Nora Chilaka, Elisabeth Perkins, Frédéric Tripet
Wichtige Hinweise

Electronic supplementary material

The online version of this article (doi:10.​1186/​1475-2875-11-27) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.

Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Authors' contributions

NC, EP and FT planned the experiments and analysed the data. NC and EP conducted the experiments. FT wrote the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.



Memory and learning are critical aspects of the ecology of insect vectors of human pathogens because of their potential effects on contacts between vectors and their hosts. Despite this epidemiological importance, there have been only a limited number of studies investigating associative learning in insect vector species and none on Anopheline mosquitoes.


A simple behavioural assays was developed to study visual and olfactory associative learning in Anopheles gambiae, the main vector of malaria in Africa. Two contrasted membrane qualities or levels of blood palatability were used as reinforcing stimuli for bi-directional conditioning during blood feeding.


Under such experimental conditions An. gambiae females learned very rapidly to associate visual (chequered and white patterns) and olfactory cues (presence and absence of cheese or Citronella smell) with the reinforcing stimuli (bloodmeal quality) and remembered the association for up to three days. Associative learning significantly increased with the strength of the conditioning stimuli used. Importantly, learning sometimes occurred faster when a positive reinforcing stimulus (palatable blood) was associated with an innately preferred cue (such as a darker visual pattern). However, the use of too attractive a cue (e.g. Shropshire cheese smell) was counter-productive and decreased learning success.


The results address an important knowledge gap in mosquito ecology and emphasize the role of associative memory for An. gambiae's host finding and blood-feeding behaviour with important potential implications for vector control.
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