Do you attract more than your fair share of mosquitoes? Your mosquito magnetism is not a figment of your imagination. For a variety of reasons, some people are naturally more attractive to these tiny vampires. While you can’t alter certain features of your existence — like your blood type, or how much you breathe — there are a number of things you can do to deter these pests from making a meal of you.
With over 3,000 species of mosquitoes patrolling the planet, it’s lucky for us that only half the population bites humans. Female mosquitoes need to obtain the protein found in blood in order to produce eggs. Depending on the species, a mosquito mother-to-be might, in one meal, drink the equivalent of her weight in blood, lay up to 100 eggs at a time, and see her offspring mature in less than ten days!
Male mosquitoes are vegetarian, finding their nutrition in nectar and sap; but females can sense more about you than you might think.
How mosquitoes decide where to dine
Odorless to us, carbon dioxide – which we produce simply by breathing — is easily detected by mosquitoes’ antennae, and lets them know there is living flesh nearby. They also have sensory organs (palps) that can detect trace amounts of odors that they find desirable — like the lactic acid found in sweat or alcohol present in one’s breath.
Most recently, it has been discovered that mosquitoes favor people infected with viruses like dengue and Zika, increasing the likelihood for spread of these mosquito-borne diseases. The study found a correlation with vitamin A levels and mosquito attraction, with those deficient in vitamin A being more likely to be bitten.
Your microbiome also acts as a messenger. Our skin is naturally teeming with microorganisms including bacteria, fungi and viruses that add to your “odor profile.” People with more diverse microbiota are less likely to attract mosquitoes than those who have a heavy population of fewer types of organisms. Most people also emit detectable identification of their blood type.
Perhaps it’s not surprising that mosquitoes show a preference for one blood type over another, but different species even have different favorites. Research has found that type O is favored by the Aedes albopictus mosquito, while type AB is preferable to the Anopheles gambiae. Although research has yielded no conclusive results as to why type O would be preferred, it is believed to be more digestible.
Our body warmth also makes a difference. Mosquitoes are naturally attracted to warmer people. Core temperature is raised in physical exertion and pregnancy. Since both these states also result in heavier breathing than normal, you also get the added carbon dioxide as a bonus.
Studies have shown that mosquitoes use visual cues as well. They can see human shapes from up to 50 feet away, and are attracted to specific colors; namely, black, red, orange, and cyan.
Natural ways to repel and reduce mosquito populations
Clearly, some of the above attractive conditions cannot be altered; but let’s look at what you can do to make yourself a little less appealing, naturally.
Most obviously, you can dress in colors that mosquitoes don’t care for — like white, green, blue, and purple. Presuming that the colors which attract mosquitoes do so because they are reflected in human skin; it would be advisable to cover the skin as much as possible — effective protection in and of itself.
You may want to make some alterations to your diet, since the food you consume naturally has an effect on your odor profile. Salty foods increase the amount of lactic acid in your sweat, so reducing your salt intake can help turn you from irresistible, to resistible.
Consuming healthy foods in general can help you build a more diverse microbiome, thus reducing your mosquito magnetism. Boosting your vitamin A levels with foods like carrots, sweet potatoes, spinach, liver and dairy, may also be helpful in deterring mosquitoes.
Since mosquitoes’ normal diet consists of nectar, they are naturally attracted to sweet foods. While many claim that a diet high in sugar can attract mosquitoes, that is generally regarded as a myth; but you can certainly make use of their sweet tooth. One study found that feeding mosquitoes sugar water deterred them from biting for up to 6 days.
Garlic is known to repel mosquitoes, but there is little evidence that it has any effect when taken internally. Consuming garlic does have many health benefits, however; and healthy bodies sweat less and emit lower levels of carbon dioxide; but garlic is more effective as a plant or a spray to produce an odor in the environment that is offensive to the insects.
You are likely familiar with the citronella scented candles sold to repel mosquitoes. Citronella as an essential oil can be blended with other essential oils, like lavender, peppermint, or geranium to make a pleasant-smelling and effective spray to repel insect pests temporarily. To minimize your own mosquito population, incorporate these aromatic herbs into your garden.
To prevent mosquitoes from breeding on your property, be sure to remove any standing water every few days. Many species of mosquito eggs need only about a teaspoon of water to successfully hatch and mature.
To minimize the number of mosquitoes in your environment, attract birds and bats with plantings and habitat. Refrain from using insecticides and pesticides that will harm natural predators like spiders, dragonflies, wasps, and mosquito hawks.
The above remedies are certainly suitable for nuisance mosquitoes. Where disease is likely, products containing DEET, a toxic chemical, are generally recommended as most effective.