Eight reasons mosquitoes prefer some people over others

And it’s not a question of having “sweet blood,” or is it? Photo: Shino, Flickr Creative Commons

WASHINGTON, July 19, 2013 – For years scientists and researchers have been trying to explain why some people seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more often than others. Male mosquitoes do not feed on blood, but females need the protein in blood to produce eggs. 

“One in 10 people are highly attractive to mosquitoes,” says Jerry Butler, Ph.D., professor emeritus at the University of Florida. Other research suggests that one in five people are magnets for mosquitoes. 

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While studies have shown that when given the choice, mosquitoes will constantly bite one person over others, the exact reason why is a matter of debate. To complicate the issue, it has also been observed that different species of mosquitoes have different preferences. 

Following is a list of the most common reasons given for why mosquitoes bite some people more than others: 

  1. Metabolism: Mosquitoes are attracted to cholesterol and steroids on the surface of skin, according to Jerry Butler, PhD, professor emeritus at the University of Florida.  This does not mean that mosquitoes are attracted to people with high cholesterol. Rather, people with a more efficient metabolism may have a higher concentration of cholesterol on the surface of their skin- not their blood- than others, thereby attracting more bites. 
  2. Size and carbon dioxide: Researchers agree that carbon dioxide is attractive to mosquitoes. “Any type of carbon dioxide is attractive, even over a long distance,” says Joe Conlon, PhD, technical advisor to the American Mosquito Control Association. Pregnant women and larger people produce more carbon dioxide and therefore may be more attractive to mosquitoes. This is also why, according to some, that adults get bitten more often than children and males get bitten more than females. 
  3. Exercise: There are several reasons why scientists believe that exercise attracts mosquitoes. Mosquitoes use movement as well as body temperature to track victims, both of which increase during exercise, along with carbon dioxide production. Additionally, some scientists also believe that the lactic acid released when exercising makes an appealing meal for mosquitoes.
  4. Allergies: After biting, mosquitoes leave behind their saliva, which has anticoagulants and a local anesthetic. Some people have stronger allergic reaction to these, while others do not, according to molecular vector biologist L.J. Zwiebel, professor of biological sciences at Vanderbilt University. People that do not have a strong allergic reaction may think that they are not getting bit as often.
  5. Smell: Scientists also theorize that some mosquitoes are attracted to smell. The way a person smells depends on the bacteria on their skin, making some people’s smell more appetizing to mosquitoes. According to the American Mosquito Control Association, certain species of mosquito are attracted to smelly feet. Many recommend using an antibacterial soap to reduce the amount of bacteria on the skin.
  6. Dark clothing: As mentioned above, mosquitoes use sight to track victims. It is believed that dark clothing attracts mosquitoes from a distance. Dark clothing gives people “a distinct silhouette against the background so the mosquitoes notice there is a shape there that is about the right size,” says Tom Wilmot, former president of American Mosquito Control Association. However, many mosquitoes are active in the dark, making the color of clothing irrelevant.
  7. Beer: According to a study published in the Journal of the American Mosquito Control Association, drinking beer attracts mosquitoes. “Just a single 12-ounce bottle of beer can make you more attractive to the insects,” says Joseph Stromberg at Smithsonian Magazine.However, the precise reason that mosquitoes are attracted to alcohol drinkers is still unknown. 
  8. Blood type:  A recent study in the Journal of Medical Entomology found that mosquitoes are more likely to attack people with type O blood.  Second to type O blood, mosquitoes prefer type B over type A. 

Experts believe that it is a combination of all these factors that makes some people more attractive than others.  Unfortunately, there is little that can be done about this apart from using chemical and natural repellants or staying indoors, especially during the early morning and dusk hours.  

READ MORE: A World in Our Backyard by Laura Sesana

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Laura Sesana

Laura Sesana is a writer and DC, Maryland attorney, joining the Communities in 2012.  She is the author of Colombia: Natural Parks, and has also written several articles on literary criticism.  She writes about food, health, nutrition, women’s legal issues, and the environment.  

In addition to writing for the Communities, Laura also works as an attorney and legal content writer.


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