Mosquitos Attracted to Certain Scents

Photo: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

People in Southern California do not have to worry so much about mosquitos, but the rest of the nation spends a great deal of the summer trying to detour the insects and its bites.

On an annual visit to the Midwest to visit family, this editor discovered if she were by herself outside, she would get the occasional mosquito. But if she were standing next to her husband, insects would totally ignore her and swarm the poor man. Likewise, she discovered that another mosquito repellent, even better than DEET was to stand next to her daughter.

It seems the little buggers enjoyed some flesh more than other. I wondered if it might have to do with blood type. I’m an O, the rest of the family is A.

Scientists have put forth some theories to explain why mosquitoes swarm to some more than others, including one idea that differences in blood type must be to blame.

In a paper published on October 2022 in the journal Cell, researchers suggest that it is not blood type, but certain body odors.

A story in the Associated Press (“Could Your Personal Smell Make You’re a Mosquito Magnet? Maybe”) wrote that “A new study finds that some people really are ‘mosquito magnets’ and probably has to do with the way they smell.”

Researchers found that the people mosquitos like the best, produce high levels of carboxylic acid, on their skin. “Mosquito magnets had high levels of certain acids on their skin,” researchers said. “These molecules are part of the skin’s natural moisturizing layer and people produce them in different amounts.”

Researchers asked 64 volunteers to wear nylon stockings around their forearms to pick up the skin smells. The stockings were then placed in separate traps at the end of a long tube. Mosquitos were released next to the stockings.

“It became obvious right away,” one researcher said.

Researchers discovered that the biggest mosquito magnet was around 100 times more attractive to the mosquitos than the last place finisher.

In an NPR talk, a researcher, Leslie Vosshall, a professor at Howard Hughes Medical Institute at Rockefeller Center was asked if it made a difference if we slathered ourselves with creams or sunscreens.

“None of the makes any difference,” the researcher said. “The mosquitoes are really cuing into the natural fatty acids on the skin, and you can’t strip them off, and you can’t cover them up with perfume or anything.”

According to Scientific American October 22 article (“Some People Really Are Mosquito Magnets, and They’re Stuck that Way”) said certain compounds in our skin determine how much we attract mosquitoes, and those compounds don’t change much over time.

“Carboxylic acids are commonplace organic compounds. Humans produce them in our sebum, which is the oily layer that coats our skin; there, the acids help to keep our skin moisturized and protected,” Vosshall said, and noted that humans release carboxylic acids at much higher levels than most animals, though the amount varies from person to person.

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2 Responses to Mosquitos Attracted to Certain Scents

  1. K.C. Soll says:

    I’m O-

    I’m a mosquito magnet. I’ve bought a new mosquito zapper. I’ll let you know!


  2. Paula Deats says:

    At last I know what to do: Research carboxylic acids and hope I can cut out something I eat? (Sure – that’s it…)

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