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“Why Do Mosquitoes Like Me?”

By Chris Williams on May 12, 2014.

Mosquitoes InsectsThis is something we hear pretty often. Of course we don’t have the answer but lots of researchers and other non-science types have speculated as to why mosquitoes seem to be more attracted to some people than others. A guy may never be bothered by mosquitoes, while his wife gets eaten alive. Maybe the guy is getting bitten but just can’t be bothered to notice, while his wife is super-sensitive to the presence of mosquitoes and freaks out whenever she hears a low buzzing noise.

It’s likely not her imagination. There are actually certain things that mosquitoes key in on when looking for a host animal (or victim) on which to feed. Researchers know that this occurs but still can’t explain all the mechanisms or compounds involved. If they could, we would have mosquito repellents that were 100% effective all of the time.

Your Body is Outgassing All the Time

Humans emit from 100 to 200 different volatile chemicals from their bodies. Skin-inhabiting bacteria on our bodies also excrete waste products. We know that some of these compounds, like carbon dioxide, lactic acid, and octenol, attract mosquitoes. But some of our bodies’ compounds repel mosquitoes, and others block the mosquito-attracting compounds. So maybe it’s not that the husband is less attractive to mosquitoes, maybe his body just produces more of a compound that repels mosquitoes.

Mosquitoes are also attracted to heat and humidity. So you would expect that a hot, sweaty body would be more attractive to a mosquito. It’s this logic that is behind the commercial mosquito traps that you can buy for your backyard. They attract mosquitoes by mimicking a human body. The traps emit heat, CO2, lactic acid, and octenol. Unfortunately, mosquitoes are always more drawn to a human host than a trap, so there is plenty that we still don’t know about what turns a mosquito on.

All Those Theories – They’re Wrong

Various other things that we put in or on our bodies are sometimes blamed for attracting mosquitoes but there is no solid evidence to support any of it. We hear that certain perfumes or soaps draw mosquitoes, and that a long list of things from bath oils to dryer sheets repel them. Nope. There is some evidence of a relationship between people who drink beer and mosquito bites, but we don’t know why that would be the case (insert joke here). On the other hand, there is no solid evidence that taking Vitamin B, Brewer’s yeast, or garlic will repel mosquitoes.

There is one thing that you can put on your skin that is scientifically proven to repel mosquitoes–insect repellent, ideally one containing the active ingredient DEET. There are other newer chemical repellents available but DEET remains the most popular and maybe the most effective. To choose the best repellent for you, see the Environmental Protection Agency’s repellent calculator.

So there is no good answer to the question, “Why do mosquitoes like me?” It’s probably just a case of love at first bite.

Photo credit: John Tann / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

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