Why Mosquitoes Love You (Even When You Don’t Love Them Back)


If mosquitoes seem to find you extra-attractive, a new study shows what could be to blame. (Photo: Getty Images)

If you’re a mosquito magnet, you might want to blame it on your genes.

Past research has shown that these insects are drawn to different natural body scents, but a new study in the journal PLOS ONE shows that our genetic makeup also plays a role in how attractive we are to the bloodsuckers.

Researchers from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine included 18 identical and 19 non-identical post-menopausal twins in the study. In what sounds like the most horrific study ever, the very brave (and hopefully well-compensated) participants placed their hands at the bottom of a Y-shaped tube, and then researchers released Aedes aegypti mosquitoes (which are typically found in tropical climates and transmit dengue fever) into each tube. Researchers found that the identical siblings were more similar in attractiveness to the mosquitoes, compared with the non-identical sets of twins.

Other research on mosquitoes — and who they bite — also show that they tend to gravitate toward certain people over others. Anopheles gambiae (the mosquitoes that transmit malaria) tend to favor pregnant women, for instance, wile mosquitoes and midges (tiny flies that are not known to carry diseases in the U.S.) seem to feed more on people with a higher body mass.

Related: 9 Reasons Why You’re a Mosquito Magnet 

“By investigating the genetic mechanism behind attractiveness to biting insects such as mosquitoes we can move closer to using this knowledge for better ways of keeping us safe from bites and the diseases insects can spread through bites,” study researcher James Logan, a senior lecturer in medical entomology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said in a statement. “If we understand the genetic basis for variation between individuals it could be possible to develop bespoke ways to control mosquitoes better, and develop new ways to repel them. In the future we may even be able to take a pill which will enhance the production of natural repellents by the body and ultimately replace skin lotions.”

Of course, there are other established factors involved with mosquito attraction. According to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI), heat, light, sweat, lactic acid, carbon dioxide, and body odor all play a role.

But until scientists can create a magic pill that will automatically deter all mosquitoes from going to town on our skin, here are a few ways to keep these bloodsucking biters at bay:

  • Avoid wearing scented body care products, such as perfumes and body sprays.

  • Avoid shaded, humid areas, and pools of standing water — these are all popular hangouts for mosquitoes. 

  • Avoid as much dusk-till-dawn outdoor activity as possible, since those are prime mosquito activity hours.

  • Cover up as much skin as you can when spending time outdoors during the day. (Even wearing socks with sneakers will help!)

  • Make sure you wear insect repellent that contains DEET (which is often listed under the active ingredients as N, N-diethyl-meta-toluamide). According to the AAAAI, products containing 6 to 25 percent DEET will protect you from mosquitoes for two to six hours. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also recommends repellents that use the active ingredients picaridin, IR3535, and plant-based oil of lemon eucalyptus.

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