Ever notice how mosquitoes tend to bite some individuals more than others? From the sweetness of your blood to what you eat and wear, the internet is abuzz with rumors about what does and does not attract mosquitoes. Well, we’re here to help set the record straight. Some myths, some facts, here are 5 common beliefs about mosquitoes and mosquito bites.
Although some studies have suggested mosquitoes prefer Type O blood to others, the vast majority of scientists have disregarded these findings as baseless, concluding instead that mosquitoes are fairly non-specific with their victims. For years, rumors have argued that certain types of blood—sweeter diabetic blood, for example—are more likely to attract mosquitoes, but there’s really no reputable science behind such claims. In reality, mosquitoes need the protein, not the sugar, from their hosts, and so the flavor and type of blood really makes no difference whatsoever.
It’s not hard to see how this old wives’ tale probably got started: mosquito bites are much more obvious on fair skinned individuals than on those with darker skin. In fact, those with fair skin readily suffer more intense reactions to mosquito bites, too, only further complicating the issue. But, no, mosquitoes do not prefer one skin tone over another.
There are over 3,500 species of mosquitoes on our planet, but not all target humans. Of the ones that do, only females bite, which they do in order to gain the nutrients necessary for breeding. All female mosquitoes that bite humans are capable of transmitting disease, but in reality only a small number of these individuals commonly carry disease. Some species, however—such as the tiger mosquito and marsh mosquito—are more likely to harbor disease than other types, especially when it comes to West Nile virus, yellow fever, and malaria.
Research has found that mosquitoes prefer larger individuals to smaller ones, such as adults over children. But why? One way mosquitoes home in on their targets is through carbon dioxide emissions, and bigger humans simply give off more of the gas than their smaller counterparts. Heat also attracts mosquitoes, and—you guessed it—larger people also emit more warmth than smaller folks. This same logic has led some researchers to believe pregnant women might also be more attractive to mosquitoes, as they tend to give off more warmth and carbon dioxide, too.
Studies have indicated that mosquitoes seem to prefer people who have more uric acid in their blood, which is increased by meat and saturated fat consumption. Other preliminary research has suggested that mosquitoes might also target individuals with higher levels of potassium and ethanol. Alcohol consumption can increase ethanol and body heat (another mosquito attractant), and studies have seemed to back up the belief that drinking alcohol makes you more appetizing to mosquitoes, too. Meat, saturated fat, alcohol—no wonder BBQs are notoriously good events for collecting mosquito bites.
While the details are uncertain, researchers believe darker colors—like black, blue and red—make you more visible to mosquitoes and therefore more likely to be targeted by them. While these colors don’t necessarily make you more attractive to mosquitoes, it’s believed that they do make it easier to find you when other modes of detection—like skin bacteria and carbon dioxide—fail.