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Curiosities: Why does it seem like mosquitoes are attracted to some people more than others?

June 30, 2008

“It’s true. There’s always one in every group,” says UW–Madison entomology professor and mosquito expert Susan Paskewitz.

Photo of mosquito

Photo: Jeff Miller

That’s not to say mosquitoes target certain people because they’re tastier or have higher quality blood. Rather, it’s all about how easy you are to locate. “The main things are how you smell and how hot you are,” Paskewitz says.

Cues like body temperature, carbon dioxide in the breath, and certain skin chemicals, such as lactic acid, all help mosquitoes orient and find their next blood meal. This means that exercise – which boosts the levels of all three signals – makes us much more appealing to mosquitoes than when we’re just sitting around.

Evidence also suggests that mosquitoes home in better on certain colors or patterns. For example, donning a black shirt instead of a white one may lead to more bites. Less certain is whether perfumes or other body products attract the pests. But mosquitoes do sip nectar in addition to blood, so avoiding products with floral scents might be wise, Paskewitz says.

Everyone’s best bets for preventing bites include wearing long sleeves and pants, and steering clear of shady areas and vegetation. Paskewitz has also been compiling the science on various mosquito-repelling products and home remedies, as well as testing the effectiveness of a few herself.

The results can be found on her Web site.