To Be or Not to Be Attracted to Mosquitoes!

In the science world, it has been a well-known fact that some people are more attractive to mosquitoes than others.   Mosquitoes, using their antennas, choose who they bite based on how your skin smells.  In the past, scientists considered that what made your skin attractive (or repellent) to a mosquito was bacteria, chemical compounds, carbon dioxide, movement, and heat.   Just recently, the DNA responsible for body odor may have solved the mystery of mosquito attractiveness.

A study titled the Heritability of Attractiveness to Mosquitoes published on April 22, 2015 in the journal PLOS One studied 37 sets of female twins to determine the percentage of mosquito attractiveness based on genetic programming.*  Eighteen sets of identical twins and 19 pairs of fraternal twins were recruited between the ages of 50 and 90.   All were female and post-menopausal.   The conclusion, after running 40 versions of the experiment using the hands of each pair of twins, is that DNA determines a person’s degree of mosquito attractiveness 62% to 83% of the time.    (To better understand these numbers, consider that genes have been found to be responsible for height 80% of the time and IQ between 50 to 80%.)

The study concluded that if a mosquito was attracted to the odor of one twin’s hand, it was likely to be attracted to the other twin.     Mosquito preference for an identical twin was twice as high as fraternal twins, who only shared half their DNA due to their birth in separate eggs.

While the experiment is over, there is still much work to be done.   Finding the actual genes responsible for mosquito magnetism is the next step, according to James Logan, the study’s senior author and medical entomologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.   This knowledge could lead to better information to control mosquito borne diseases and even the development of a new drug that would allow your body to produce natural repellents.

Controlling Mosquitoes

Only female mosquitoes bite.   And the reason they bite is to nourish eggs, which can be as many as 300 at one time.   Females live about six weeks (compared to males who live only seven days), and can find their hosts by flying from one to 10 miles to even 40 miles.   Because mosquitoes breed in any standing, stagnant water, it is time for you the homeowner to get busy eliminating these areas.   Here are a few spring chores and tips to beat the bite and not give mosquitoes a chance to be nuisances in your backyard.

  1. Find and eliminate all standing pools of water around your house and yard.   Do this regularly.   (Once a week is a good rule of thumb because that is the time for a mosquito to grow from an egg to a biting adult.)   These areas include pet bowls, fountains or bird baths, wagons and other children’s toys, wading pools, open trash bins, leaky hoses and faucets, flower pot dishes, tree holes.
  2. Clean clogged rain gutters, eaves, and troughs.
  3. Throw out old bottles, cans, pails, and used tires.
  4. Keep lawns mowed as short as practical, and trim and prune ornamental shrubs and bushes to allow airflow and light to penetrate.   It will be harder for adults to hide in these locations because of your handiwork.
  5. Repair screens on windows and doors.
  6. When outside, wear light colored, loose fitting long sleeved shirts and long pants, hats and socks.

*For more information on the twin study, see:

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