Skeeter Snacks: Why Some People Get Bitten, and Others Don’t

By Doug Williams
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Skeeter Snacks: Why Some People Get Bitten, and Others Don’t

Doug Williams
 
Why Some People Get Bitten, and Others Don’t
Why Some People Get Bitten, and Others Don’t
 
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You’re sitting around a campfire with friends and, as evening sets in, the local insects are coming out. Some of you are almost immediately targeted as a great snack by the mosquitoes, and others are barely aware they’re there.

Are some folks really more attractive to the winged nuisances than others? Science says yes.

Some of you are almost immediately targeted as a great snack by the mosquitoes
Some of you are almost immediately targeted as a great snack by the mosquitoes

According to WebMD, about one in ten people are naturally more attractive to mosquitoes than the rest of the population. How likely you are to be that one is mostly about your genes — 85 percent of your chances of being an especially tasty mosquito snack are based on your genetics.

While researchers are still trying to figure out the specifics about why some people are bitten more often, there are a few factors that have been identified so far.

Only the females take human blood
Only the females take human blood

First of all, mosquitoes don’t suck blood for food. Only the females take human blood, and they do it to support making more mosquitoes. They need blood in order to create fertile eggs, and some blood is definitely better suited to the task than the rest.

A lot of the reason certain people are targeted is how they smell and the compounds given off by their skin.

Those with more cholesterol or steroids coming off them are more likely to be bitten. That isn’t to say that people with high cholesterol necessarily get more bites. Some people just process it faster than others, and cholesterol leaves certain byproducts on the skin’s surface which attracts the bugs.

Those with more cholesterol or steroids coming off them are more likely to be bitten
Those with more cholesterol or steroids coming off them are more likely to be bitten

Mosquitoes are also attracted to people whose body chemistry makes more of certain types of acids, including uric acid and lactic acid.

The scent of those acids on the skin appeals to mosquitoes, making them more likely to land on those who have this trait. The insects can smell desirable victims from a significant distance — up to 160 feet, say experts.

In addition to the acids your body secretes, carbon dioxide is also a major draw. The more you give off, the more attractive you are.

Because of this, adults are usually more attractive targets than babies or young children. Women’s chances go up during pregnancy, since pregnant women produce more CO2.

Women’s chances of being a mosquito target go up during pregnancy, since pregnant women produce more CO2.
Women’s chances of being a mosquito target go up during pregnancy, since pregnant women produce more CO2.

Heat and motion also affect your chances of being bitten. The warmer you are, the more attractive you are, and movement catches the bug’s attention.

If, for example, are outside, you are less likely to be bitten while reading on the patio than if you out running. In fact, taking a run could make you irresistible.

Your body temperature goes up from exertion, your breathing rate increases, putting out more carbon dioxide, and your body starts making more lactic acid, all of which act like beacons for mosquitoes looking for their next donation.

Bug Zodiac outlines some other things that have an effect on how bite-worthy you are. The site says that people with Type O blood are 83 percent more likely be bitten, while those who have Type A are the least likely, and those with Type B blood fall somewhere between.

Some 85 percent of us secrete something that tells mosquitoes our blood type, and the people in that group are bitten more often than the 15 percent who don’t secrete those cues, regardless of blood type.

People with Type O blood are 83% more likely be bitten
People with Type O blood are 83% more likely be bitten

Drinking alcohol has an effect, since it raises your body temperature and metabolism. The colors you wear can attract attention as well. Red makes you very attractive, but any dark colors are also drawn.

Mosquitoes tend to fly fairly low to the ground, and dark colors emphasize your silhouette against the horizon, whereas lighter colors tend to blend in.

Having worked out what attracts the pesky biters, what are the best ways to keep them at bay? There are lots of chemical mosquito repellents available on the market, but they’re not all equally effective.

Since 1957, DEET continues to be the most effective chemical for repelling mosquitoes according to numerous studies. Repellents that have 23.8 percent DEET are effective for about five hours. Much lower concentrations need to be used for infants and very young children, though.

A newer chemical that has come into use, called Picaridin, is said to be as effective as DEET, but is odorless, and is safer for infants and very young children.

Mom and son use mosquito spray.
Mom and son use mosquito spray.

More recently yet, products have been developed that don’t go on the skin but instead into the environment in the area you want to protect, like your deck.

These also come in forms that you can clip to your clothing, and they use a small fan to disperse the chemical, protecting the wearer. You can buy clothing that has been permeated with a repelling chemical as well.

There are other methods for mosquito control that don’t involve putting chemicals all over yourself. One of these is a mosquito trap which puts out substances that are attractive to female mosquitoes, killing them when they approach. Such traps can be very effective when used near breeding areas to help keep populations down.

There’s no real escape from mosquitoes when they’re in your vicinity, but knowing a little about what attracts them and the most effective ways to keep them at bay can at least help keep the problem manageable.

 
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