First of all, it’s not in your head. Mosquitoes really do prefer some people to others, says Dr. Jonathan Day, a medical entomologist and mosquito expert at the University of Florida.
And that time your grandmother told you your skin was just sweeter? There’s some truth to that, Day says. “Some people produce more of certain chemicals in their skin,” he explains. “And a few of those chemicals, like lactic acid, attract mosquitoes.
” There’s also evidence that one blood type (O) attracts mosquitoes more than others (A or B).
Unfortunately, your genes dictate your blood type and the chemical makeup of your birthday suit. Genetics also determine several other factors that could make you an object of blood-sucking affection for your local mosquito population, Day says. Maybe the most important: Your metabolic rate, or the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) your body releases as it burns energy.
Mosquitoes use CO2 as their primary means of identifying bite targets, Day says. Why? “All vertebrates produce carbon dioxide, so what better way could there be for a mosquito to cue in on a host?” And while it’s true that you can moderate your metabolic rate through diet and exercise, you can only change your metabolism so much, Day says.
“Pregnant women and overweight or obese people tend to have higher resting metabolic rates, which may make them more attractive to mosquitoes,” he explains. Also, drinking alcohol or physically exerting yourself raises your metabolic rate—and also your appeal to winged biters, he adds. (Exercising before grabbing a beer and heading outside = asking for trouble.)
While CO2 detection is the primary technique mosquitoes and other blood-sucking bugs use to spot hosts, they also rely on secondary cues to differentiate you from cars, decaying trees, and other CO2-producing objects. And you can control some of those secondary cues, Day says.
For example: Dark clothing is more attractive to mosquitoes than light oufits. Why? “Mosquitoes have problems flying in even a slight wind, and so they keep close to the ground,” Day explains. Down there, they spot hosts by comparing your silhouette to the horizon.
Dark colors stand out, while light shades blend in, he says. At the same time, lots of motion distinguishes you from your surroundings.
So if you’re moving around a lot or gesturing, you might as well be shouting, “Hey, mosquitoes! I’m right here, ladies!” (Only the females bite, Day says.)
Obviously, you’re not going to spend the summer sitting stock-still in a white suit. So what are the best ways to avoid itchy bites? Day recommends protective clothing, which doesn’t mean baggy jeans and long-sleeved sweatshirts. “Lots of the lightweight, breathable fabrics made for athletes or fishermen are woven tightly enough to protect you from bugs,” he says.
If your summer style isn’t negotiable—or for those parts of your body you can’t cover up—Day recommends a mosquito repellant with 15% DEET. Just make sure to follow the label’s instructions for safe application. “Spray it into your hands and then rub it on your skin to avoid inhaling it,” he says. “That’ll protect you for around 90 minutes.”
Also, mosquitoes usually feed at dawn and dusk when the wind tends to die down and the humidity rises, Day explains. If you can stay indoors at those times, you’ll avoid bites. A good fan pointed in your general vicinity will also do a great job of keeping the bugs away. “Mosquitoes can’t fly in a breeze faster than 1 mile per hour,” Day says.
If all that fails, hug a bite-free buddy. Maybe some of his mosquito-repelling skin chemicals will rub off on you.
For your security, we've sent a confirmation email to the address you entered. Click the link to confirm your subscription and begin receiving our newsletters. If you don't get the confirmation within 10 minutes, please check your spam folder.
Contact us at [email protected]
Here’s Why Mosquitos Seem to Bite You More Than Other People
Summer is in full swing, which means days at the beach, camping trips, and other outdoor escapades. Unfortunately, these lovely excursions can be tainted by pesky bug bites, especially from mosquitoes.
Worrying about and healing from itchy bug bites can be a day ruiner, especially for people who are more prone than others to getting bitten by mosquitoes.
But is it really true that mosquitoes bite some people more than others, or is that just a myth?
“Yes they do, that’s totally true. Mosquitoes certainly prefer some people for biting more than other people,” according to Whitney High, the director of the dermatology clinic at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.
The reasons for this range from genetics to what a person has had to drink before they are bitten. Read on to learn more about why mosquitoes bite some people more than others, and what you can do if you’re one of their favorites.
Why Some People Get More Mosquito Bites Than Others
Mosquitoes primarily use what amounts to a sense of smell and, to a lesser degree, visual information when they make a move for their meal (and yes, that meal is blood). “Even how you dress and the colors you wear” in areas where mosquitoes are present can have an impact on how many bites someone will get, High explains.
A mosquito will be more inclined to bite someone wearing a bright blue or red shirt hanging out in a green yard than someone in the same yard who’s wearing green clothes that blend into the surroundings, according to Ted Rosen, professor of dermatology at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas.
Why Do Mosquitoes Bite Some People More Than Others?
Mosquitoes love to feed on some of us more than others. I figure I’m one of the more appetizing humans; I get a lot of bites if I’m not wearing bug spray, and when I was pregnant I got tons. It turns out there are a few reasons why.
They follow your breath
We inhale oxygen, and we exhale carbon dioxide. That’s just a fact of our metabolism. And so mosquitoes (and many other biting insects) start their hunt for a target by looking for the carbon dioxide “plume” that emanates from a human or animal body.
The larger you are, the more carbon dioxide you breathe out. (This may partially explain why children don’t get as many bites as the rest of us.) If you’re exercising, you’ll be breathing even more.
Moving around disrupts that plume, though. If you go for a run, you’ll be breathing plenty of CO2, but you’re constantly outrunning it. A mosquito that finds itself downwind of you won’t be able to follow you and keep up.
Or to disrupt the cloud in another way, you can find a breezy spot to sit, or turn on a fan. By blowing the carbon dioxide away, you’re making yourself harder for mosquitoes to find.
After a mosquito sniffs you out, it will start looking for a large, warm object. (That’s you.) Some research suggests mosquitoes have an easier time finding you if you are wearing dark or bright colours, but people in light coloured clothes still get bitten plenty.
They smell and taste your skin
If you were to lick your skin, and that of your friends (please don’t), you’d probably find that everybody tastes just a little different. Research on mosquito preferences finds that some species prefer the flavours associated with certain genetics. We each have different bacteria living on our skin, and that seems to affect mosquitoes’ preferences as well.
Why do mosquitoes bite some people more than others?
- 13 Movie Scenes That Were Affected by Art, and We Are in Awe
- It’s a girl! Enrique Iglesias and Anna Kournikova Have Welcomed Their Third Child
- 16 Exes Who Don’t Want to Be Forgotten
- An Artist From Russia Makes Animal Toys That Enchant Everyone at First Sight
- 15 Weird Things People Do That Can’t Be Explained Logically
- 20+ People Who Were Brave Enough to Change Their Lives for the Better
- 9 Times When the Universe Accidentally Dropped a Box of Happiness on One of Us
- The 5 Shortest Men in Hollywood Whose Charisma Is Bigger Than the Universe
- 17 Families Who Don’t Know What Boredom Is
- 15 Celebrities Who Earn Millions but Their Cars May Be Cheaper Than Yours
- How Actors of Mean Girls Have Changed After 16 Years
- A Couple Dedicated Their Life to Raise Foster Children, and They’re Already Happy Parents of 14
- 23 Sculptures That Can Make You Stop and Stare
- 16 Bold Clothing Tags That Say More Than They’re Supposed To
- 18 Things People Suddenly Discovered in Unexpected Places
- Woman Shares a Thank You Note to a Guy Who Reads ’Her Body Language’ and Saves Her
Why mosquitoes bite some people more than others
Surprisingly few of the more than 3,000 mosquito species actually specialise in biting humans. Instead, most are opportunistic feeders – feeding when they are able and from lots of different sources.
But Aedes aegypti and Anopheles gambiae are well known for their preference for human blood and their role as vectors which transmit disease in humans. Ae. aegypti has been linked to zika and dengue, while An.
gambiae carries the parasite which causes malaria.
Not only do certain mosquito species show very strong preferences
for obtaining their blood meals from humans, they also appear to discriminate between people when choosing their next meal.
Personally, I’m lucky – I don’t tend to get bitten much. I’ve shared rooms with people who end up covered in bites while I escape with only a nibble or two.
I’m sure you’ve noticed something similar, whichever side of the arrangement you might fall.
Although this is only an anecdote, it is backed up by research. So why is it happening? What factors might influence the mosquito’s choice?
There are many old wives’ tales on the matter, some more plausible than others. Some think that blood type, having fair skin, being sweaty and even eating foods with garlic or apple cider vinegar can influence biting rates one way or the other.
There are plenty of these anecdotes and for the most part they don’t appear to have much influence when scientifically tested.
But a great deal of research effort is spent on understanding mosquito feeding choices, primarily in the hope of manipulating their behaviour to control disease in humans.
Only female mosquitoes bite, and only then when they’re ovulating. Shutterstock
All mosquito species use carbon dioxide as a long-range indicator that a host is nearby. However, CO₂ is ubiquitous and provides little information to help a specialist mosquito identify its preferred target.
Lactic acid has been demonstrated to be a significant attractant alongside CO₂ and is much more prevalent in human odour than in other animals.
Other compounds such as ammonia, some carboxylic acids, acetone and sulcatone also help complement this human bouquet.
Of course, this doesn’t tell us why my companions are generally bitten more than me, it just explains why humans end up as a mosquito’s meal and not a bird, cow or lizard. The best evidence for what motivates a mosquito’s choice between different people is the variation in our skin microbiota.
The human skin’s microbiota
This microbiota is mostly non-pathogenic bacteria and fungi which live on our skin and in pores and hair follicles. The odour combination they emit in the form of volatile organic compounds is the critical factor in telling mosquitoes how tasty we’d be.
Our skin microbiota is not readily passed between people through contact. We have an estimated 1m bacteria per square cm of skin, often comprising hundreds of species. This means that mosquitoes choosing between different people might not be selecting based upon “us” but rather the composition of the micro-organisms that live on our skin.
Given the variation and abundance of bacteria in our skin’s microbiota, it is perhaps unsurprising that the incredibly sensitive smell and taste apparatus of a host-seeking female mosquito can detect these differences. We only need to consider female behaviour here as only they bite, and only then when they are producing their eggs.
The composition of our skin microbiota mostly depends on our environment – what we eat and where we live. Everything we touch, eat, drink and wash with has the potential to introduce new microbes, but there’s evidence that a person’s genetics can also influence skin microbiota to a lesser extent.
Bacteria living on our skin emit odours which entice mosquitoes. Shutterstock
Genetic variation is thought to affect how hospitable your skin is to the various species of microbes that live on it. This may be through genetically controlled production of proteins in the skin that act as barriers and prevent microbes from establishing and growing on the skin, or through more mundane aspects such as a person’s tendency to sweat or how oily their skin is.
It’s worth remembering that, as pure sweat has no discernible odour, sweating itself may not be responsible for attracting mosquitoes. Rather, the variation in the chemical composition of sweat, and sweat production rates between people, might result in beneficial conditions for some microbes that can attract mosquitoes.
While we’re pretty sure that mosquitoes choose their human hosts according to the bacteria which live on our skin, it’s less clear why they prefer the odour signature of some skin’s microbial life over others. If we could learn this secret, perhaps we could change our skin’s bacterial composition to make ourselves less appetising targets.
Why Do Mosquitoes Bite Me So Much?
Have you noticed that some people seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others? If you’re one of these unlucky people, you’re probably wondering, “Why do mosquitoes bite me so much?”
It’s not just your imagination. According to research, and for a variety of reasons, mosquitoes do bite certain people more than others. According to lab research, about 20 percent of the population gets bitten more than others.
But before we dive into why mosquitoes bite some people so much, let’s get a few mosquito facts straight:
Related > How Much Do You Know About Mosquitoes?
Here are some of the factors that appear to cause mosquitoes to bite some people more than others.
According to a Journal of Medical Entomology study, mosquitoes land on people that have Type O blood nearly twice as much as they land on people with Type A blood. Individuals with Type B blood fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. Also, about 85 percent of people secrete a chemical signal indicating their blood type.
Using an organ known as the maxillary palp, female mosquitoes can smell carbon dioxide emitted in human breath up to 115 feet away (as mentioned above). Those who exhale more of this gas (often larger people) seem to attract mosquitoes more than others.
Heat and Sweat
Besides carbon dioxide, mosquitoes seem to have a nose for other scents, such as lactic acid, uric acid, ammonia and other compounds emitted in sweat. They also prefer warm bodies. Exercise increases the buildup of lactic acid and heat, making a warm, sweaty body almost irresistible to mosquitoes. Movement increases mosquito bites up to 50%.
Research suggests that certain types and quantities of bacteria on human skin can attract mosquitoes. A recent study found that large amounts of certain types of bacteria make skin more appealing. This may explain why mosquitoes are drawn to our ankles and feet, which are areas that often harbor highly active bacteria colonies, and can be smelly.
Mosquitoes are highly visual creatures, using their eyes and scent organs to locate food sources, especially in the late afternoon. Wearing certain colors including navy, black and red, can make you easier to spot. And according to studies, dark colors have been shown to attract more mosquitoes than lighter colors.
According to research, women in the late stages of pregnancy