Why do mosquitoes tend to bite some people more than others?
When you’re outside with a group of people — perhaps at the park, on a hiking trail, or in someone’s backyard — you might notice that certain individuals find themselves swarmed by mosquitoes while others are completely unharmed.
To avoid getting bitten, it helps to understand what signals might be attracting mosquitoes to you in the first place.
What Attracts Mosquitoes to Bite You?
- Carbon Dioxide
- Lactic Acid
- Body Odor
- Clothing Color
Mosquitoes are very sensitive to the carbon dioxide that we breathe out. They can recognize changes in carbon dioxide concentrations in their environment, which helps alert them to potential hosts. In fact, mosquitoes are able to detect CO2 in exhaled air from up to 50 meters away.
On average, humans exhale about 2.3 pounds of carbon dioxide daily. Granted, the amount of CO2 a person produces when breathing normally isn’t likely to attract a mosquito swarm. However, heavy or strenuous breathing — like after vigorous exercise — might draw in more of these bloodsucking pests.
In addition to seeking out carbon dioxide, mosquitoes can also identify your thermal signature by using temperature-sensing receptors on their antennas. As a mosquito gets close, it uses these receptors to detect heat to identify targets for a blood meal.
In a study published in the Journal of Insect Physiology, researchers found that female Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are able to discriminate among heat sources that are at ambient, host-range, or deleterious temperatures. In other words, mosquitoes fly towards heat sources closest to the body temperature range of their warm-blooded hosts.
Generally speaking, higher body temperatures are more likely to attract mosquitoes.
The heat produced by our bodies can vary based on a variety of different factors. For example, people who are pregnant, overweight, or have a high base metabolic rate tend to give off more heat, making them more prone to mosquito bites.
Lactic acid is an compound that is present in our blood and sweat. During strenuous activity, lactic acid increases in concentration as a result of anaerobic respiration.
Mosquitoes are attracted to people with a greater build-up of lactic acid. Exercise is the most common way to increase the build-up of lactic acid. The more you sweat, the easier it is for a mosquito to find you.
In addition to lactic acid and carbon dioxide, mosquitoes are also attracted to general body odor.
Body odor is produced when bacteria on the skin break down certain protein molecules in sweat. Mosquitoes can detect these odors within 10 to 50 meters of a potential host.
In addition to natural body odor, the use of floral-scented soaps, deodorants, perfumes, and lotions can also draw in mosquitoes.
The color of your clothes can also attract mosquitoes towards you. Researchers at the University of Washington found that mosquitoes prefer specific colors, such as red, orange, black, and cyan.
Mosquitoes have a visual range of about five to 15 meters. Once they’ve been drawn in by following chemical cues like CO2 and body odor, they use their eyes to scan for specific colors associated with a potential host.
They seem to be particularly drawn to the color red. To mosquitoes, human skin, regardless of pigmentation, gives off a red-orange “signal” in their eyes.
If you don’t want to attract mosquitoes, opt for wearing colors like white, blue, green, or purple instead.
How to Avoid Mosquito Bites
While it’s impossible to stop your body from producing CO2 or lactic acid, there are other things you can do to make mosquitoes pay less attention to you.
One of the main ways to prevent mosquito bites is by covering exposed skin and wearing long-sleeved shirts, long pants, and socks. When indoors, having screens on doors and windows can help stop mosquitoes from getting inside.
Another option is using mosquito repellents. If you decide to use, look for ones that contain the following active ingredients recommended by the CDC for long-lasting protection.
- Oil of lemon eucalyptus
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