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Why Am I a Mosquito Magnet During the Summer?

By Allison Ford
July 18, 2013; 10:05 AM

Mosquitoes just can’t get enough of me. It’s as if I’m some sort of fine dining establishment and mosquitoes come from miles around to just to feast on me. Maybe my blood contains the mosquito equivalent of Cadbury chocolate, because even bug repellent doesn’t keep them at bay—they bite right through my clothes. I know that not everyone spends their summers with giant leprous-looking welts covering their arms and legs, so how did I get to be so lucky? I’ve always wondered just what it is about me—and everyone else who’s a skeeter magnet—that make mosquitoes go crazy.

Why Mosquitoes Suck

Only female mosquitoes bite, or to be more accurate, they suck. Both sexes of mosquito get the majority of their energy and sustenance from nectar, but female mosquitoes need blood to nourish eggs. They don’t take much—about .001 to .01 milliliter of blood—but our bodies’ reaction to the mosquito saliva causes the itchiness and irritation. Every year, people all over the country battle with mosquitoes, trying to eradicate them from their homes and yards as well as keep them off their kids. The insidious pests can make being outdoors a real chore, since some mosquitoes can sense a tasty meal from fifty meters away.

Besides our unique body chemistries, there are certain situations and places that naturally attract mosquitoes. Most species are more active at dusk, making warm summer nights the prime mosquito feeding times. They breed and live near water, and although they prefer stagnant ponds and pools, some coastal areas are mosquito havens, too. Even inland areas aren’t completely safe; mosquitoes will fly miles for a meal. They love warm weather and heat, whether it’s the heat from a barbecue or the heat given off by human bodies. Mosquitoes are also attracted to dark colors, as dark clothing and foliage are easier for them to see. Dark clothing can also trap body heat. No wonder mosquitoes love to crash cookouts on warm summer nights.

Making Scents of Attraction

External factors aside, about one in ten people are highly attractive to mosquitoes. Scientists have done studies on twins and discovered that about 85 percent of that attraction is purely genetic. The good news: you probably can’t do anything to make yourself more attractive to the pests. The bad news: there’s not much you can do to keep them away, either. According to the American Mosquito Control Association, the biggest and most universally accepted attractor is exhaled carbon dioxide. Larger people tend to be more attractive to pests than smaller people or children, because they emit more CO2. Pregnant women and people exercising are also more susceptible to bug bites, since they exhale more CO2 as well.

Another accepted attractant is lactic acid, which is emitted after exercising. Mosquitoes also tend to go after people with high levels of steroids and cholesterol on their skin. The presence of those chemicals on the skin doesn’t actually signify that a person has high cholesterol in their bloodstream. In fact, it could mean that people with evidence of the compounds on the skin are actually more adept at processing cholesterol, leaving the byproducts behind.

Many other compounds have been theorized to attract mosquitoes, with a modest amount of anecdotal evidence to back up the claims. Some entomologists claim that mosquitoes are attracted to people with high levels of uric acid on the skin and some believe that mosquitoes are more attracted to people who drink large amounts of beer. One of the most unusual claims is that mosquitoes are highly attracted to stinky Limburger cheese. The cheese actually contains a chemical compound also found on human feet, perhaps explaining why mosquitoes love to attack feet and leave plenty of itchy bites between the toes.

What Won’t Ward Them Off

Determining mosquito attractiveness has been a complicated process and scientists have thrown many theories by the wayside as evidence proves them false. One early theory was that mosquitoes preferred women because they sweat less and have thinner skin. We now know that mosquitoes are in fact attracted to the scent of sweat, besides the fact that not all women sweat less than men do. Some people claim that eating bananas will make you more susceptible to mosquitoes, but there is no scientific evidence to back up that theory. Two common theories of mosquito attraction, B-vitamin deficiency and eating garlic, have also been shown to be false. Since the 1960s, people claimed that a B-vitamin supplement would ward off mosquitoes, but multiple scientific studies have proved that theory false. We now know that mosquito attractiveness isn’t related to gender or blood type, either.

Common wisdom dictates that perfumes, fragrant soaps, and detergents can attract mosquitoes, but they can actually work for us or against us. The fragrances in these products mingle with our natural scents and whether or not they turn us into mosquito magnets depends on how they interact. For some people, fragranced products can make them more appetizing and some people’s natural scents can become less appealing once they’ve mixed with soaps and perfumes.

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