As far as I’m concerned, there’s not much that doesn’t attract mosquitoes to us humans. The sound of a buzzing mosquito in the spring, summer and autumn is a sound every human has heard – lots of times. Something about humans makes them attractive to mosquitoes. But what? What do we do to encourage them to bite us? Why do mosquitoes love humans so much? This article covers everything you will ever need to know about why humans are so attractive to skeeters. And it will also give you a lot of ideas about how to makes yourself as unattractive to mosquitoes as possible.
Even though science has moved on, our ideas about exactly what attracts mosquitoes to humans haven’t really changed. The Romans used vinegar-soaked sponges at their feet and heads while sleeping, or stretched horse-hair across doors and between walls (perhaps they thought fast-flying mosquitoes would be decapitated). Burning peacock tail feathers or fish was also supposed to repel them. While the smell of burning fish won’t do much to help us sleep through the night, smoke screens are still used to repel mosquitoes today. History has also depended on natural remedies that we still believe in. In fact, we believe in them more because science is starting to tell us how they actually work.
Is it just our body odors that that attract mosquitoes? Or do they detect humidity levels, from the moisture from our breath and sweat, for example? Perhaps there’s something else that makes humans so attractive to mosquitoes. By understanding exactly what helps female mosquitoes to find us (and bite us), could we invent the perfect repellant and never have to put up with being bitten ever again? Well, we’ve had thousands of years to create the perfect mosquito repellant, but knowing exactly why we are so attractive to mosquitoes in the first place is the best place to start.
How Do Mosquitoes Find You?
We now know that the following things help female mosquitoes to find us:
- Carbon Dioxide: The larger we are, the more carbon dioxide we produce. Pregnant women also produce more CO2, which is the reason why pregnancy and increased numbers of mosquito bites are linked. As mosquitoes can detect carbon dioxide from well over 150 feet away, it goes without saying that a not very well ventilated bedroom is a huge ‘come and get me’ sign for mosquitoes.
- Heat: The warmer we are, the more mosquitoes we attract. Pregnant women and the obese, along with people who work out or have a hot bath before bed, tend to heat up more than others. That’s why going to bed after a workout means we will be bitten more often than a non-obese, non-pregnant, less active and chilly partner in the same bed.
- Sweat: Our sweat contains various chemicals, such as lactic acid, uric acid
andammonia. It’s the number of chemicals in humans that makes mosquitoes come to us instead of to animals. Humans have up to 100 x more lactic acid in their sweat than other mammals, making us much more attractive to some types of mosquito. However, some mosquito species are more attracted to different chemicals in our sweat. There doesn’t seem to be a ‘one chemical attracts all’ answer to the question.
- Blood type: In controlled settings, researchers found that mosquitoes were more likely to land on (and bite) people with type O blood, and least likely to feed on people with type A blood. This might also be part of the reason why some people seem to be ‘genetically’ predisposed as the perfect mosquito menu. If you want to know more about your own blood type and how much more likely you’re to get bitten, here’s a full article I wrote on the subject of blood types and mosquitoes!
- Bacteria: Studies show that people with high amounts of the same type of skin bacteria attract more mosquitoes. People with a smaller number of skin bacteria, but with many different types, attract them less. Antibiotic treatment and the use of anti-bacterial products get rid of huge colonies of both harmful and healthy bacteria, leaving only a few resistant types behind. These resistant types grow quickly, creating huge populations in a short amount of time. Exactly the type of skin environment a hungry mosquito is attracted to.
- Alcohol: It doesn’t seem to be the increase in body heat, metabolism or carbon dioxide production caused by alcohol that attracts mosquitoes to people who have consumed it, but the odor of the alcohol itself. The effect of beer drinking, in particular, has been studied, proving that beer isn’t only tasty to us humans. And in case you’re wondering, alcohol in your blood does not make mosquitoes drunk, as I’ve explained in this article.
- Shapes and colors: Mosquitoes can see us from about 50 feet away. The closer they are, the better, of course. Darker colors seem to attract them more, but mosquitoes don’t always behave in a consistent way to visual triggers. So while the human shape might be a minor attractant, it’s the other clues guided by their sense of smell and sense of temperature that bring them to us.
How To Avoid Mosquito Bites
Knowing how mosquitoes find us means we also know how to avoid mosquito bites. The most common mosquito repellents either contain chemicals mosquitoes are not attracted to, or mimic human odors and temperatures in a lure. This lure will normally use toxic chemicals or an electrical shock to kill the mosquito.
- Cover your scent with something natural mosquitoes don’t like: There are many chemicals and compounds which have been proved to repel mosquitoes. You will find a long list of them here. As we now know that the second most important trigger for mosquitoes is the odors we give off, adding a powerful mosquito-repelling scent might put them off. At least until it starts to wear off. If you use natural scents to keep mosquitoes away, remember to reapply them regularly. At least every 30 minutes.
- Create a human scent somewhere else: Using mosquito lures or mosquito traps, especially modern versions, can drastically reduce the numbers of mosquitoes whizzing around your head. The best models produce carbon dioxide, use blue light which has been proved to attract mosquitoes, use the scent of octanol (found in human breath and sweat), and are set at just the right temperature. Of course, if you are asleep in a closed room, or if there are lots of humans in a single area, you might produce more CO2, octanol and warmth than the trap. And as visual stimuli (such as color) are less attractive than olfactory ones, the mosquito will prefer you to the trap.
- Cover your skin: Bed nets are used all over the world and are very effective. However, mosquitoes are very clever. Some species have changed their waking and sleeping cycles to avoid going hungry when the humans are asleep and under a net. So a bed net on its own is probably not enough. Long sleeves made from heavy fabric, hats with veils, long pants legs, and long socks will all reduce the risk of being bitten. However, as mosquitoes thrive in warm and humid weather, who wants to cover themselves up in lots of warm layers of clothing?
- Poison your skin: Using toxic sprays or pesticides, such as DDT, will prevent you from being bitten, but not all of the time. Some mosquito species are quickly becoming resistant. We aren’t, though. DDT is toxic to us, and regular applications (which you will need if using it to repel mosquitoes) are as bad for us as they are for (some) mosquitoes. If you want a mosquito repellant, try to keep it natural.
- Avoid alcohol: As I’ve already mentioned, a glass of beer is as attractive to mosquitoes as it is to a thirsty human. So by not having a glass in the hours before going to bed, you might make yourself less attractive. But, just like in the point above, only if there’s someone else around who smells tastier. If only you are available, it won’t matter whether you’ve had no beer or way too much beer. The mosquito will find you.
- Surround yourself with a strong draught: One fail-safe mosquito repellant is a strong breeze. But it has to be a consistent strong breeze, higher than the medium setting on an average air-conditioning unit. A mosquito is too tiny to fly against a strong wind and will be forced to look elsewhere. An open window (or two open windows) is not the equivalent of a strong draught. So if you use this method, you might want to purchase some ear plugs, too.
- Sit or sleep next to someone who is more attractive to mosquitoes: This is probably one of the best methods when it comes to avoiding mosquito bites. Simply hang out with someone who’s fatter, smellier, warmer and less covered up than you and you’ll probably be bite-free. They, however, might look like a pincushion. Depending on your level of empathy, and depending on the temper of the more attractive (to mosquitoes) person, this method might be the one that finally lets you sleep soundly all through the night.
Why Mosquitoes Bit Some More Than Others
Mosquitoes will bite some people more than others if they have a choice. If only one person is in a room, that person will be attractive. When large groups of people are potential targets, mosquitoes will be more attracted to larger, uncovered people with plentiful skin bacteria and who have recently consumed alcohol.
If you imagine yourself playing the role of a hungry female mosquito out for blood, you’ll get a feel for what makes humans so attractive. First of all, your advanced sense of smell will pick up higher quantities of carbon dioxide. So as you fly in someone’s garden at dusk you might get a whiff of concentrated CO2 coming from the den where a human family are watching TV. Even though they’ve left a window partially open, there’s still a lot more exhaled CO2 in the room than there is outdoors. So you make your way towards the window.
The weather’s warm, but not body-temperature warm. The average human body temperature of 98.6°F isn’t very common. What’s even more helpful is that you, that is you as a female mosquito, can detect a difference in object and ambient temperature of 4.5˚F. That is to say, the rough amount of heat humans radiate off to the air around them. So while trigger one was the higher CO2, the second trigger is the temperature of the humans sitting watching TV in the den. And the higher that temperature difference, the better. Of course, it’s easy to get past that window.
Once you’re in, it’s simply a case of preference. Who hasn’t washed their feet for a while and isn’t wearing socks? Who’s overweight and has just has a lovely warm bath? Which one’s enjoying a beer? All you have to do is find the most attractive piece of bare skin and land on it without being felt (your highly developed landing mechanism allows you to do just that). Locating the nearest capillary is easy with your special olfactory organs placed just above your stylet (the equivalent of a proboscis). It’s time for dinner.
Why Mosquitoes Bite Certain Body Parts
Mosquitoes bite us in order to get a blood meal. As only female mosquitoes feed on blood in order to get the protein necessary to produce eggs, they are the ones we need to avoid. For many of us, it often feels as if mosquitoes target certain parts of the anatomy more frequently than others. Is this because of mosquito preferences, or is their choice of restaurant seating up to us?
- Ears: Have you ever cut your ear? If you have, you’ll probably remember the blood bath that followed. There are a few reasons why mosquitoes love biting our ears. Our ears have lots of capillaries, our ears are often warm (thanks to the blood flow), and our ears are often uncovered. Ears also tend to get rather smelly rather quickly, and our ear wax contains a lot of bacteria.
- Arms, shoulders, back: Arms and shoulders are the most likely parts of the human anatomy to be out from under the blanket or duvet. If you’re a tummy-sleeper, then your back might also be exposed. This means these areas of the body are easy pickings. Less covered with nerve endings than our fingers, ears, face
andtoes, choosing these parts of the body mean that a mosquito is less likely to be slapped to death after biting them.
- Legs: One of the most common mosquito bite sites, the legs often end up bumpy and itchy after a warm night. The legs don’t have anywhere as many nerve endings as the fingers and toes, and they are close enough to the feet (and to the part of the sheet nearest to the feet). Generally, the feet provide the most odor and sweat. Because our legs support us all day long, they are well muscled and have a good blood supply. Some of us suffer from varicose veins or very shallow veins which give a huge quick meal in a very short time. Bigger than capillaries, veins near the surface mean less effort for more calories. Hairy legs are even better. The mosquito has the added protection of relatively sparse hair. If you stole your lunch, where would you eat it? Out in the open? Or hidden in the bushes?
- Butt: Hehe, he said butt. Very funny. While not many of us sleep with our bums hanging out of bed, there are (excuse the pun) cracks and crevices which the blanket doesn’t smother. So if a mosquito has gotten under the blanket, it won’t get squished and can feed in peace. There’s also a lot of surface area to choose from (some of us have more than others), and, sorry to say this, the bum can get rather sweaty and smelly as the night goes on. Prime rump for the mosquito!
- Feet: If you have been bitten on the sole of your foot, you probably have a lovely pair. That’s to say, you don’t have thick, dry layers of skin which, although very attractive to a mosquito when it comes to odors and bacteria, isn’t easy to pierce with its stylet. Mosquitoes find it incredibly easy to bite the feet, as our feet are often not covered. Those of you who wear socks with their sandals can, for once, be forgiven, as there’s nothing more irritating than a mosquito bite to the foot.
- Knuckles, ankles & knees: If you’re like me, you get bitten on the knuckles and ankles more often than anywhere else.
There’sa few reasons for this. Your joints are meant to move, and therefore have a very good blood supply which is easy for a mosquito to get at via the grooves in the loose skin that covers them. While we are more likely to move our joints, a mosquito only needs a few minutes to feed. The wrinkled skin over our joints also tends to accumulate more bacteria than some other regions of our anatomy.
How To Get Rid Of Mosquitoes In The House
Once they’re in, they don’t have to stay in. Mosquitoes are becoming increasingly endophilic, meaning they like to live their entire lives indoors. However, they need a source of stagnant or slow moving water in which to lay their eggs. It’s easier to get rid of mosquitoes from an indoor environment. I’ve listed 6 of the best below. Browse through my other articles to find even more
- Mosquito lure: For a mosquito lure to work well, it needs to be more attractive than you are. Hang your lure in a quiet, draught-free, relatively low-lit and warm environment not too close to where you spend the majority of your time. The chemical lures your machine emits (CO2, octanol, blue light) will then be much more effective.
- Mosquito screens: You can place very efficient screening on all window and door openings. However, every time you open the screen there’s a chance a mosquito can get in. However, screens will significantly reduce the number of skeeters that get inside. Mosquitoes can get in through cracks in the brickwork, the chimney, through the unprotected basement, so screens aren’t cure-alls, but they are worth investing in.
- Essential oils: So many essential oils have mosquito-repelling properties that making your own indoor mosquito spray (for use inside the house) is easy. You can use the fragrances you
love,while putting the mosquitoes off entering your home. There’s a huge list in my article dedicated to natural mosquito repellent scents. Either put a few drops of your chosen oil onto the bottom of a pair of curtains, buy an oil burner, sprinkle them in plant pots, or even on the floor. The smell will permeate the house, and the mosquitoes won’t enjoy it at all. House plants: Some houseplants are well-known insect repellents. The most popular of these are lavender and mint. Less well known are sage and basil. Why not have yourself an indoor herb garden? If you don’t want herbs, try chrysanthemums which contain pyrethrum (a natural pesticide), lantanas, petunias andgeraniums. All of these will look great, both indoors and out. Fly swat: If you can find the pesky skeeters, you can kill them. But they will know you’re coming, so you’ll either need sharp reflexes or a very wide-headed swatter. Electric swats will also work. Just be aware that if you kill a female with a swat you might have to clean up the nasty smear of blood from the ceiling afterward.
- Fan: Nothing puts a mosquito off more than a strong breeze. When it’s windy outdoors, a mosquito will have to hide in order to survive. A ceiling fan should be set to at least medium, preferably high. Floor-level fans should also be set quite high. Together with other repellents like screens, plants
andlures, you could achieve the holy grail of a mosquito-free home.
Repelling A Mosquito Outdoors
Getting rid of mosquitoes outdoors is trickier than getting rid of them in the home. First of all, the outdoor environment is much harder to control. You can’t put screens on the sky. However, even in large, open spaces, there are ways to repel mosquitoes. I’ve come up with 6 of the best. Of course, my other articles are full of information which will give you plenty of extra ideas.
- Mosquito fogger: The mosquito fogger uses chemicals, sending them over your garden and yard via misted droplets of water. Some manufacturers use organic chemicals or natural insecticides such as lemongrass oil, others use strong pesticides. If you have young children or pets, you might want to avoid the latter. You will need to reapply every few days or after heavy rainfall. However, these machines certainly do the trick. If you choose to use a pesticide fogger, be aware of its effects on other wildlife, such as birds, bats and frogs.
- Mosquito yard spray: You can make your own yard spray using the recipe at the end of this article. Cheap, effective and safe, a home made or shop bought yard spray will repel mosquitoes through unpleasant (to them) odors. You will need to reapply every time you go outdoors, so this isn’t a great idea for a huge outdoor space, but when getting ready for breakfast on the patio or a cocktail at sunset, a yard spray could save your skin … literally!
- Attract wildlife: By attracting birds and even bats to your garden, you can reduce the number of mosquitoes as well as feed the local wildlife. Hang bird and bat houses in the right locations, and make sure the cats can’t get to them.
- Mosquito coils: Using mosquito coils outdoors can be very effective, but some people don’t like the smell. A coil is basically incense made from insect-killing ingredients such as pyrethrum which is a natural plant-based pesticide. Never make the mistake of lighting one indoors. They are fire hazards and produce a lot of smoke and formaldehyde. One coil might produce more chemicals than 100 cigarettes.
- Plants: If you can plant an herbaceous border near to your front and back door consisting of citronella, catnip, mint, marigolds, lavender, ageratums and lemon balm, the cats will come running but the mosquitoes won’t. All of these plants are used as natural repellents and have been scientifically proven to keep mosquitoes at bay.
- Fan: If it’s windy outdoors, you’re not going to get bitten by a mosquito. If there’s no wind, make your own. A powerful outdoor fan won’t just blow the barbecue smoke away; it will blow the mosquitoes away, too. Aim the fan at where you are sitting and enjoy the conversation, the sunrise, the sunset, or the hot neighbor in his/her hot tub without experiencing a single mosquito bite.
Getting Rid Of Mosquitoes Buzzing In Your Ears
While there are lots of different ways to reduce the risk of being bitten by a mosquito, there’s no one product which works 100% of the time, all of the time. The reasons are many. Scents that cover our own wear off and need to be reapplied. Moving around in bed might dislodge a net and create a small gap where a tiny female mosquito can get in. Washing before bed is great, but as the night goes on we continue to sweat and bacteria continue to grow. Placing a lure which emits carbon dioxide is effective only for as long as it produces more CO2 than we humans.
In other words, using a combination of mosquito repellants is the key. The more types you use the less chance you have of getting bitten. I’ve had a hard look at a wide range of mosquito repellents, and have put together a product page of all the best solutions. Pick out a few of the ones that best suit your lifestyle. Think about their potential effect, while remembering why mosquitoes are attracted to us in the first place.