Does it ever cross your mind, that you're a personal favourite of the mosquitoes? You could be enjoying a dinner on a clear perfect night, and suddenly sense a sharp prick: the perfect way to destroy a good evening. Your long corduroys serve as no protection against the ferocious little creatures, who seem flattered by any exposed skin. Meanwhile, others around you seem immune to the breed of bloodsuckers. Why do mosquitoes bite some people more than others? You're about to find out.
The science of mosquitoes biting humans
For starters, ‘all’ mosquitoes do not bite humans. Only female mosquitos bite since they need a blood meal to lay their eggs. Once she seeks out a human, using her powerful sense of smell, she goes on to carry out the bloody ordeal. In a 1910 paper published by Frank Milburn Howlett, a British scientist, it was observed that body heat was the main cause of attack by a female mosquito, which is why humans are more susceptible than other cold-blooded animals.
An experiment was conducted wherein human volunteers wore a nylon stocking on their forearm for six hours, post which the arm was exposed to mosquitoes, through a tube apparatus. It was seen that the mosquitoes tended to move towards the worn nylons compared to the unworn nylons. The team then exposed mosquitoes to nylons worn by two different people. Startlingly, the mosquitoes gravitated to one nylon more than the other. The findings are consistent with a 2006 study that also showed that odour plays a role in why mosquitoes bite some people more.
Your body odour attracts mosquitoes
Christopher Potter, associate professor of neuroscience at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine says "A plethora of odours waft from our body due to the lactic acid, uric acid, present in the body, and also the metabolism of these by the bacteria and fungus dwelling on us. In order to figure out which body odour a mosquito species prefer, scientists use a special technique to identify them. The main attractants on human skin that scientists know of include lactic acid, ammonia or uric acid (found in pee), fatty acids, and 1-octen-3-ol (found in human breath). "But the mosquito might be using the whole blend as an attractive source."
Other factors why mosquitoes bite some people more
Along with body odour, there are other contributing factors that make you a seemingly tasty snack for a mosquito. Colours! Research has shown that mosquitoes are attracted to the colour black! Meanwhile, heat and water vapour is another factor that may be drawing the mosquito species to you. We are warm-blooded animals and as mosquitoes get closer to us, they detect this warmth and water vapour on our skin. They also associate scents with hosts that have given them a good-quality blood meal. So if you’ve proved to be a good host to the mosquito, be ready for a few more surprise visits!
Additionally, if you've consumed booze, mosquitoes would see you as a feast! A 2002 study looked at the effects of alcohol consumption and how mosquitoes see this. The researchers found that people who had consumed beer were more attractive to these voracious creatures, than people who were sober. Studies have also found that a mosquito is more attracted to a pregnant woman, as she has a high body temperature and exhales more carbon dioxide. Another factor that plays a role in mosquitoes being attracted to some humans more than others is blood type.
Mosquitoes bite us in order to harvest the proteins from our blood. Thus, research suggests that a certain blood type may be more appetizing than others. It was found that in a controlled setting, mosquitoes landed on people with Type O blood nearly twice as often as those with Type A. People with Type B blood fell somewhere in the middle of this itchy spectrum. Additionally, based on other genes, about 85 per cent of people secrete a chemical signal through their skin that indicates which blood type they have, while 15 per cent do not. Mosquitoes are more attracted to secretors than nonsecretors, regardless of which type they are.
Mosquitoes bite some people more? Maybe not, says science
There may be some truth to a mosquito picking you out, and deeming you worthy enough to get some blood: genetics, body odor, diet (a diet rich in lactic acid) and microbes inhabiting our body play a role in determining the level of mosquito attraction. Research has found that identical twins are equally attractive to mosquitoes, pointing to a genetic basis for odor differences. However, while this might be the case, the major reason that causes you to speculate that a mosquito bites some people more than others may be cuz you’re sensitive.
Thus, while you may be under the impression that the mosquito is simply choosing you over others, it is actually a case of you 'feeling' the sting more. Certain people just happen to have more genes that are responsible for making them feel the itchiness post a mosquito bite.
The best solution would be for you to avoid or prevent yourself from being bitten. Those long corduroys don't have to be the only option. You can go ahead and bare some skin while keeping the troublesome creatures at bay!
How to avoid a mosquito bite
If you're in an area where mosquitoes are present, there are a handful of steps you can take, to prevent being bitten. The itchiness and the annoyance are not the only problems! Mosquitoes spread deadly disease such as dengue fever, malaria, and more, which you certainly want to stay away from.
Use an insect repellent
The most effective chemical repellents contain DEET, picaridin, PMD, or IR3535 insecticide, which are all considered safe when used as directed. The CDC says they're safe for pregnant and nursing women, as well as babies over 2 months. While using an insect repellent, just watch out for skin irritation and avoid spraying chemicals around the eyes or mouth. Concentrate the insect repellent on your ankles, feet, lower legs and wrists - thin-skinned spots mosquitoes love to bite.
Wear long sleeves and pants, if possible
If you're really desperate to keep the predators away, you may just have to go in for a new wardrobe! This can limit the area available for mosquitoes to bite.
Choose light-coloured clothing
Mosquitoes are attracted to black and darker colours, as was earlier mentioned. This is because the colours stand out. Light, loose-fitting clothing would be your best bet.
Avoid peak mosquito times
Mosquitoes are most active at dawn and dusk. Avoid going outside at these times. This would essentially limit your exposure at these prime feeding times.
Eliminate mosquito habitats
Get rid of any standing water in things such as gutters or buckets. Change the stagnant water in wading pools or birdbaths frequently. These waters serve as breeding places for the mosquito species, and that's the last thing you want!
Keep mosquitoes out of your house
Don't leave doors and windows open without screens in place. Make sure window and door screens are in good shape. After 6 PM is when the danger strikes! Be sure to close all entry points of these into your home.
If you've been bitten
If you've been bitten by a mosquito, here are a few things to resort to. These will calm the itch down.
Scratching can increase the swelling of the bite, and it breaks your skin. These cracks in the skin can put you at risk of infection, by either the mosquito or other bacteria, fungi or such disease-causing organisms.
Apply cold to the site
Using a cool compress, ice or a wet towel or cold pack that can help with swelling and itch. This will not only help the swelling to go down, but also reduce any post-bite marks.
Use lotions or creams
There are a variety of itch-relieving creams such as hydrocortisone cream and calamine lotion. These contain components that will help subside the inflammation and itch.
Consider over-the-counter (OTC) antihistamines
If you have a stronger reaction to mosquito bites, you may want to take Benadryl or hydrocortisone cream. These reduce the allergic reaction that your body may start to show, after being bitten by a mosquito.
While most mosquito bites should go away in a few days, see your doctor if a bite looks infected or if you have other symptoms associated with the bite, such as fever, aches and pains, or headache.
As for whether you're just a tasty treat for the mosquitoes, well, you may never know! Do mosquitoes bite some people more, will always remain a topic of debate. You may just want to choose your clothes wisely at the next barbeque night.