According to Dr. Conor McMeniman, an assistant professor of molecular microbiology and immunology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Johns Hopkins Malaria Research Institute in Baltimore, “We’re always in a war, a perpetual war against mosquitoes.” Mosquitoes have been buzzing around for as long as humans have existed.
Mosquitoes spread diseases like West Nile virus, malaria, and dengue fever, which kill more people than any other animal. This is a war that frequently turns deadly.
Even if the mosquitoes in your area do not carry these diseases, they still pose a problem. What attracts mosquitoes, how they hunt us, and what scientists recommend to keep them at bay are explained in detail here.
The science of mosquito bites
Mosquitoes help pollinate flowers and consume plant juices and nectars the majority of the time. However, when female mosquitoes are ready to lay eggs, they need more protein, which they get from drinking blood.
According to McMeniman, “when a mosquito bites, it actually sticks its mouth parts into your skin and probes around in the skin to actually find a blood vessel.” The mosquito consumes plasma and red blood cells as if it were drinking bubble tea through a straw once it reaches sanguine pay dirt.
The mosquito benefits from drinking quickly and disappearing undetected. He stated that in order to accomplish this, “mosquitoes spit into the skin a whole cocktail of different proteins” that act as anticoagulants and painkillers and prevent blood from clotting. As a result of our bodies’ inflammatory response to this chemical cocktail, mosquito bites only cause itching and discomfort when the perpetrator is no longer at risk of being swatted.
Different people react differently to being bitten by a mosquito. One person might come away from a barbecue with a few pimple-like spots, but a friend might have dozens of welts the size of silver dollars for a week.
According to McMeniman, “how attractive you think you are to mosquitoes might not necessarily correlate with how attractive you are actually to the mosquitoes.” A portion of that is driven by the view of your response to the mosquitoes and whether you’re tingling.”
What attracts mosquitoes
In his most recent study, which was published in the journal Current Biology, McMeniman documented the fact that some people are in fact magnets for mosquitoes. Mosquitoes answered contrastingly to the variety of synthetics making up every individual’s personal stench bouquet, and they consider some more tantalizing than others. Unfortunately, it is difficult to pinpoint the factors that make some people more attractive to mosquitoes.
According to McMeniman, “there could be a variety of factors that could influence the composition of your scent,” such as your underlying diet, genetics, and physiology. The microbiome that naturally resides on our skin and the kinds of molecules that are released by the human body could both be affected by these factors.
It would be nice to simply replicate the scent profile of people who repel mosquitoes and market it as a body spray to those with the dubious distinction of being “tastier,” but at this point, it is not feasible. We’re actually attempting to grasp the science of this cycle,” he said.
While the fine subtleties of which fragrances attract mosquitoes are as yet being investigated by scientists, there’s a general example to the bugs’ capacity to track down us.
“First they smell you, then, at that point, they see you, and afterward when they’re sufficiently close, perhaps inside a meter of the host, they can really identify warm signs disseminating from your skin,” McMeniman said. Carbon dioxide, a gas that we exhale, is one of the most important scents that attracts mosquitoes from a distance.
According to Dr. Kristen Healy, president of the American Mosquito Control Association and associate professor of entomology at Louisiana State University, “as a universal, most of them are attracted to CO2 from a long distance.” Numerous studies have demonstrated that the CO2 released during exhalation, particularly in large groups, can attract mosquitoes. It also appears that body heat and sweat play a role.
Healy asserted that her personal experiences support this hypothesis. She stated, “I will definitely notice a difference in mosquito attraction if I am active and sweating because they can cue into those other extra odors.”
A number of scientific studies have suggested possible factors that make mosquitoes more enticing. Some have suggested that people who drink beer are more likely to get bitten, while others have suggested that certain colors, like red, might make mosquitoes more enticing.
“It would be truly helpful to increase those reviews to perceive how general these discoveries are across various hosts,” McMeniman said. You probably shouldn’t throw out all of your red shirts and beer just yet.
How to prevent mosquito bites
There are a lot of devices and sprays that say they will get rid of mosquitoes, perhaps because of the complexity and unsolved mysteries surrounding their attraction. Healy stated that cutting-edge devices like ultrasonic mosquito repellents “are kind of just out there on the market” and “not necessarily backed by research and science.” A product that claims to be 100 percent effective at killing mosquitoes would never gain my trust.
Gadgets that splash bug repellent over a bigger region can be successful, yet “I believe it’s quite significant that these are insect poisons — clearly, they’ve passed EPA (US Natural Security Organization) enlistment guidelines, yet you are strolling around in a haze of insect spray,” McMeniman said.
Healy and McMeniman, on the other hand, recommend more tried-and-true approaches.
McMeniman stated, “It is really important to cover up as much as possible during the summer and apply an EPA-registered insect repellent with ingredients such as DEET and picaridin.” He suggests oil of lemon eucalyptus to people who prefer botanical products.
Make sure your windows are screened and use an air conditioner or fan at night to keep mosquitoes out. To stop mosquito eggs from hatching, clear your yard of debris on a weekly basis and drain any water that is still standing.
In the end, there is no magic bullet that will keep you from getting bitten by mosquitoes. Despite the enticing findings of a number of studies, there is no easy way to get rid of mosquitoes—no color to avoid, no scent to wash with, and so on.
Interacting with mosquitoes is necessary for coexistence on our planet because they are a natural part of the environment. Purchase a high-quality bug spray and remember to reapply as necessary.
Chicago-based freelance science writer Kate Golembiewski is fascinated by zoology, thermodynamics, and death. “A Scientist Walks Into a Bar,” a comedy talk show, is hosted by her.