If you live in an area with a lot of mosquitoes, you may have noticed that some people attract more mosquitoes than others. Scientists believe that one in ten people is more attractive to mosquitoes. This may very well be true since mosquitoes use many different methods to sense the human body.
Mosquitoes may seem like very primitive insects but they actually use a combination of many complicated senses to detect humans and animals from a distance of up to 130 ft. (40 m).
A lot of research is being conducted to find exactly what attracts and what repels mosquitoes. We’re still far from having the complete answer to these questions since there are a lot of factors, including the many odors that a human body produces, that might be visible to a mosquito.
We’ve written this article to give you more information about the things that attract mosquitoes that have been proven by experiments. This will allow you to at least take some basic steps to protect yourself against those blood-sucking pests.
You’ll find a slideshow at the end of the article with a summary of the information found in this post.
The most common way that mosquitoes find humans is by detecting the carbon dioxide (CO2) released when we breathe. Approximately 4–5% of the gas we exhale with each breath is CO2.
Mosquitoes have a specific organ that they use to detect CO2, the maxillary palp. Mosquitoes can detect CO2 from up to about 150 ft. (45 m), away so CO2 is more of a mid- to long-range tool for mosquitoes. When a mosquito detects a CO2 stream, it flies in that direction until it reaches the source of the C02.
CO2 isn’t only exhaled by humans but also by other animals. Mosquitoes don’t need human blood specifically, but will also bite different animals, preferring those without thick skin or fur.
Generally speaking, the more CO2 you exhale, the more attractive you’re going to be for mosquitoes. When exercising, you’ll exhale a lot more CO2 due to heavy breathing. This is why you may notice a lot of mosquitoes around while playing football, volleyball, or other outdoor sports. Larger people tend to exhale more CO2, so mosquitoes are more attracted to them. Pregnant women produce more CO2, making them easier to spot for mosquitoes. At the same time, children exhale less CO2 than adults, so they’ll attract fewer mosquitoes.
We exhale different chemicals along with the CO2. All of these chemicals together create a unique scent that is different for each person. This can make some people are more attractive to mosquitoes than others.
As mentioned above, besides humans, there are other natural sources of CO2, such as other animals. While there are things you can do to block other methods that mosquitoes use to detect you, unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of things you can do to block the CO2 you exhale.
Along with CO2, there’s another substance released from our body that attracts mosquitoes: lactic acid. We release lactic acid from our skin primarily when we exercise and sweat.
The more you exercise, the more lactic acid your skin will release. As with CO2, the amount of lactic acid released can vary between different people. This is another reason that some people are more attractive to mosquitoes than others.
Lactic acid is also produced when we eat salty or high-potassium foods. To reduce the amount of lactic acid you produce, shower with soap after training and dry your skin before going outdoors. Also, avoid eating salty foods or foods that contain large amounts of potassium near an area with active mosquitoes.
Fragrances and Skincare Products
Different types of fragrances tend to attract mosquitoes more, especially flower or fruit aromas. These products include perfume, sunscreen, shampoo, lotion, and so on. Washing powders and fabric softeners with fruit or flower fragrances can also attract mosquitoes.
Along with the fragrances that attract mosquitoes, some skincare products contain lactic acids. As we previously mentioned, lactic acid is very attractive to mosquitoes. You must avoid these products if you don’t want to fight off a lot of mosquitoes.
So, avoid applying any products that contain flower or fruit fragrances on your skin, hair, or clothes before going outside. Don’t use skincare creams with lactic acid during mosquito season.
The blood circulating through our blood vessels radiates heat, which mosquitoes can detect. Luckily, mosquitoes aren’t able to detect heat from as far away as CO2. When they are close to their victim, however, mosquitoes can sense the heat emitted by the body of a living being with their heat-sensing organs. Different species of mosquito can detect different body temperatures. Some might sense cooler body temperatures while others sense warmer temperatures.
Mosquitoes use CO2 to detect their victims from a distance. They then use heat to find the perfect spot to land on your body and suck your blood. Mosquitoes can also detect the areas of your body where the blood is closest to the surface. This is why mosquitoes are usually attracted to those areas on your body that aren’t protected by fabric. Mosquitoes also know when you’re wearing clothing made from thin, lightweight fabric and can bite through your t-shirt or socks.
The best way to attract mosquitoes is with water. Mosquitoes use water to reproduce and lay their eggs in water, so any type of humidity or water will naturally attract them. A human body that produces moisture will, therefore, attract more mosquitoes. Perspiration and moisture in general, attract mosquitoes, even in very small amounts. The water particles that you exhale when you breathe can attract mosquitoes, too.
People who sweat are more attractive to mosquitoes for a few reasons. Since they are probably doing sports, they’ll be creating more CO2 and lactic acid. On top of that, their bodies will be producing a lot of moisture in the form of sweat. So, avoid exercising or performing tasks that make you sweat in areas with a lot of mosquitoes, especially in the evenings when mosquitoes are more active.
Other Odors from the Human Body
Scientists have determined that our bodies produce over 350 different odors. There is still no clear answer to the question of which of these odors mosquitoes can sense to find us.
Since each human body produces different amounts of these odors, so it’ll take a long time and a lot of experiments to determine which odors attract mosquitoes. It’ll then take even longer to produce an insect repellent that will keep us 100% safe from mosquito bites.
Even though mosquitoes mostly use scent to locate their victims, some mosquito species find humans using sight. As weird as it may seem, darker clothes will attract more mosquitoes than lighter clothes. Wearing a black t-shirt and blue jeans will make you a lot more attractive to mosquito females than light-colored clothing. Generally, you should avoid black, dark blue, dark green, and red clothing if you want to avoid mosquitoes.
However, color isn’t the most common way mosquitoes find their victims. They find CO2, heat, and moisture from human skin much more attractive.
Mosquitoes can also detect the movement of the human body. They can detect changes in the light waves of objects closer to them, so the movement of humans and animals will attract them.
Sensing our movement isn’t the primary detection method that mosquitoes use, though. The CO2 from our breath as well as our body odor, skin temperature, and moisture have a larger impact on how mosquitoes find us.
How to Protect Yourself Against Mosquito Bites
The first thing you can do is use an insect repellent. There are many insect repellents out there that use different mosquito-repelling substances such as DEET, picaridin, citronella oil, and so on. Each of these repellents works for different amounts of time. They have differing success rates but will keep most mosquitoes away from a least half an hour up to a couple of hours.
Mosquito repellents aren’t going to be very useful when you’re doing outdoor activities, sweating, or are outdoors in the rain because moisture tends to neutralize the active ingredients used in mosquito repellents.
Another disadvantage of mosquito repellents is that they tend to work for a very short amount of time and over short distances. If you use an insect repellent on your skin or clothes, mosquitoes will probably avoid you but will be attracted by the person standing next to you.
To overcome this problem, you can use a mosquito fogger. There are different types of mosquito foggers out there, ranging from ULV to thermal foggers. For outdoor use, thermal foggers tend to be the most effective.
Foggers spray insecticide as a dense fog that kills mosquitoes on contact. You must use them in areas where mosquitoes live most, such as shrubbery, treetops, long grass, and areas with standing water. After fogging, your mosquito will be over for at least a few hours. For long term mosquito control, you’ll have to fog a few times a week.
There are a lot of ways that mosquitoes can use to find us from various distances. Mosquitoes can sense the CO2 we exhale from far away. When near us, mosquitoes can sense various substances on our skin such as lactic acid, perspiration, and a lot of different odors. Mosquitoes are also good at sensing the heat from our skin.
Apart from the natural odors from our bodies, fragrances from different perfumes, lotions, and creams attract mosquitoes. Flower and fruit fragrances from washing powders and fabric softeners do as well. As if that weren’t enough, mosquitoes can detect our movement. They can also find humans wearing darker clothing more attractive than those wearing lighter colors.
Our bodies are most visible to mosquitoes when we are doing outdoor sports. Our bodies produce extra heat, lactic acid, CO2, and moisture in the form of sweat, all of which will attract mosquitoes.
As you can see, mosquitoes aren’t actually as simple as they appear. It takes a lot of work to become less attractive to mosquitoes. You can take some steps to protect yourself from mosquito bites including:
- Wearing lighter colors and thicker clothing.
- Showering more often to hide your body odor.
- Avoiding skincare products and soaps with flower or fruit fragrances or lactic acid.
- Not eating salty or potassium-rich foods.
These small steps can make you a bit less attractive to mosquitoes. But, they won’t help in areas with a lot of mosquito activity, especially at the times when mosquitoes are the most active.
Check out our presentation summarizing what attracts mosquitoes to humans: