New research into the behaviour of biting flies may help Africa’s fight against sleeping sickness.
Researchers have found that biting flies are attracted to blue colour as they confuse it for an animal they want to feast on.
The department of life sciences at Aberystwyth University in the United Kingdom led an etymological field study aimed at working out why these flies are especially attracted to blue, which has led to traps across the world being made in that colour.
By developing artificial neural networks that mimic the visual processing in the brain of biting flies, researchers came to the conclusion they published.
Flies caught in blue traps were more likely to not have eaten recently, suggesting they had been on the lookout for hosts.
The research, which has also been peer-reviewed and published in the Proceedings of Royal Society B journal, also cast doubt on a previous theory that blue objects represented shade to the flies.
The new findings may mark a turning point in the fight against diseases endemic in sub-Saharan Africa that remain without treatment and are generally fatal.
The team’s conclusions could be key in combating diseases like human African trypanosomiasis – also known as sleeping sickness – and controlling stable flies, which primarily attack cattle and horses.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 98 percent of reported cases are caused by the parasite Trypanosoma brucei gambiense, which is found in 24 countries in Western and Central Africa.
The second form, Trypanosoma brucei rhodesiense, accounts for less than 2 percent of cases and is found in 13 countries in Eastern and Southern Africa.