If you’ve lived through a summer in the South, then you know what it’s like to do battle with mosquitoes and doesn’t it seem that mosquitoes are more sweet on some people than others?
I’m not just talking about those wearing bug repellent versus those who aren’t. It just seems that not everyone has equal appeal to these pests.
But is that perception real or is it indeed just that–a perception. I sat down with NewsRadio 1080 KRLD to talk more about these selective mosquitoes – you can listen to the audio here.
Q: While it’s true that no one likes mosquitoes, it seems like mosquitoes on the other hand, like some people more than others. Is there any truth or science to this?
Some people are definitely more attractive to mosquitoes than others. In fact, studies show that anywhere between 10-20 percent of people are considered “high attractors“. There have been many old wives tales about what makes people high attractors. Some joke that your hair color determines this, or that high blood pressure or scents from perfumes do—but all of these are just myths.
Q: So what makes someone a high attractor, or, more generally, what makes someone a target for a mosquito?
Different species of mosquitoes may have slightly different “attractors”, but establishes research has shown consistent patterns around two main factors: your look and your smell to the mosquito.
Mosquitoes seem to search first by sight, so larger people or those in dark colors tend to catch their eye. Since men are usually bigger than women and children, it seems that they are more susceptible.
Once a mosquito starts to zero in, the scent/cloud of carbon dioxide produced through breathing can make you a bigger target than the person standing next to you. Larger people tend to produce more carbon dioxide than do people with higher metabolisms or pregnant women.
There are other scents that seem to attract mosquitoes as well like lactic acid, which is what your body sweats out when exercising, as well as aceton and estradiol (a byproduct of estrogen) which are both carried in your breath. These compounds vary from person to person and may also be what makes some people more naturally repellent to mosquitoes.
In addition, there are hundreds of bacteria or compounds that live on your skin and give off certain odors in different temperatures based on the individual. Some of these may contribute to making certain folks more naturally attractive to mosquitoes. Certain bacteria on the feet are especially attractive to certain varieties of mosquitoes, which is why you may get bit a lot on the feet and ankles.
Q: Is there anything people can do to make themselves less of a target, or is bug repellent the only solution?
Another old wives tale is that garlic pills can help make you less attractive to mosquitoes, but there’s no evident to back it up. The best protection is an EPA-approved repellent and to cover your skin with clothing. Also, avoiding stagnant water and similar areas that are natural habitats for the large number of critters can protect you.