Some people get ravaged by mosquitoes if they so much as take a walk at dusk. Others can walk through clouds of the insects and not get a single bite. What’s the difference? A lot. Scientists have figured out many reasons why mosquitoes can’t seem to resist some people, but are repulsed by others. Ever notice how mosquitoes seem to frantically feast on some folks while ignoring others? It’s not just your imagination, said entomologist Joseph M. Conlon, a technical advisor to the American Mosquito Control Association. “There is no question that some individuals are more attractive to mosquitoes due to chemicals they secrete from their skin and from their particular skin flora.”
Mosquitoes are sources of severe infection in many parts of the world, there has been a lot of research done about why some people are mosquitoes’ favorite snack.
Although researchers have yet to pinpoint what mosquitoes consider an ideal hunk of human flesh, the hunt is on. “There’s a tremendous amount of research being conducted on what compounds and odors people exude that might be attractive to mosquitoes,” says Joe Conlon, PhD, technical advisor to the American Mosquito Control Association. With 400 different compounds to examine, it’s an extremely laborious process. “Researchers are just beginning to scratch the surface,” he says.
Scientists do know that genetics account for a whopping 85% of our susceptibility to mosquito bites. They’ve also identified certain elements of our body chemistry that, when found in excess on the skin’s surface, make mosquitoes swarm closer.
“People with high concentrations of steroids or cholesterol on their skin surface attract mosquitoes,” Butler tells WebMD. That doesn’t necessarily mean that mosquitoes prey on people with higher overall levels of cholesterol, Butler explains. These people simply may be more efficient at processing cholesterol, the byproducts of which remain on the skin’s surface.
Mosquitoes also target people who produce excess amounts of certain acids, such as uric acid, explains entomologist John Edman, PhD, spokesman for the Entomological Society of America. These substances can trigger mosquitoes’ sense of smell, luring them to land on unsuspecting victims.
Understanding what lures the insidious insects can be useful in avoiding them. Zika, West Nile, Malaria, Dengue … the disconcerting catalog of illnesses spread by the flying disease-delivery vehicles known as mosquitoes is an ever expanding thing. And along with vector-borne diseases, mosquitoes and their diabolic hypodermic mouthparts offer no shortage of itchy welts, meanwhile their crazy-making hum can keep the soundest of sleepers swatting at their faces all night.
Do you make mosquitoes swoon? I seem to have won the mosquito lottery – they don’t want to have anything to do with me. Others aren’t so lucky, studies show that 20 percent of people are especially irresistible. “High attractor types” is what Jonathan Day, a professor of medical entomology at the University of Florida in Vero Beach, calls the unfortunate group.
We talked with experts to learn more about the biological factors that can turn a person into skeeter bait. If the little buggers happen to find you irresistible, here are some possible reasons why:
Female mosquitoes (the kind that bite) have a thing for carbon dioxide. Special nerve receptors help them detect the gas in the environment. What does that have to do with your baby bump? A 2002 study published in The Lancet found that women in the later stages of pregnancy (with a mean gestational age of 28 weeks) exhale 21 percent more CO2 than their non-pregnant peers.
The researchers speculated that this physiological difference could help explain why the pregnant women who participated in their experiments attracted twice as many mosquitoes. (Because itchy welts are just what you need in your third trimester.) But CO2 may not be the only reason you’re suddenly more appealing: It could also be that pregnant women emit volatile odors that draw the insects, says Laura Harrington, PhD, a professor in the department of entomology at Cornell University.
Type O Blood
Just like you have favorite fro-yo flavors, mosquitoes possess so-called landing preferences, and one of them has to do with what’s running through your veins. A study in the Journal of Medical Entomology found that the bloodthirsty fiends are extra attracted to individuals with type O blood. “Type O individuals may share a propensity for exuding certain odors that mosquitoes find attractive,” Conlon suggested.
Heat and Sweat
Mosquitoes apparently have a nose for other scents besides carbon dioxide; they can sniff down victims through the lactic acid, uric acid, ammonia and other compounds emitted in sweat. They also like people who run warmer; a hot sweaty human must seem quite delicious to them – couch potatoes, rejoice. Strenuous exercise increases the buildup of lactic acid and heat in your body, Smithsonian points out, while genetic factors “influence the amount of uric acid and other substances naturally emitted by each person, making some people more easily found by mosquitoes than others.”
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