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Question:

    Why do mosquitoes bite me and not my friend?

Answer:    

     Recent evidence suggests that some people give off masking odors that prevent mosquitoes from finding them.

Recently, scientists at Rothamsted Research in the UK discovered that some people produce chemicals that smell bad to mosquitoes, masking the chemicals that usually attract the mosquitos.

James Logan and John Pickett (Vince, 2006) devised some unique ways of testing body odor. First, they had two different people put one hand into each end of a chamber and the investigators watched which hand the mosquitoes preferred. Then they selected the person who was not preferred (who felt lucky up to this point) and sealed their body in foil to collect their sweat. Talk about an unpleasant experiment. The researchers set about analyzing the body chemicals and are now waiting to patent the results in hopes of producing a natural insect repellent.

The female mosquito is the one that bites (males feed on flower nectar). She requires blood to produce eggs. Her mouthparts are constructed so that they pierce the skin, literally sucking the blood out. Her saliva lubricates the opening. It’s the saliva plus the injury to the skin that creates the stinging and irritation we associate with mosquito bites.

Unfortunately, mosquitoes are carriers for a host of diseases, including malaria, yellow fever, West Nile virus, and Dengue fever. There are hundreds of species of mosquitoes belonging to the family Culicidae. Since they breed in standing water, a way to eliminate them around the home is to remove objects where water collects, such as cans, buckets, old tires, and refreshing the water in bird baths at least once a week. Turn water barrels upside down during the winter, as well.

Insect repellents often contain DEET (N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide) although there are more natural ingredients available, such as eucalyptus oil extract. You can try to limit your exposure to mosquitoes when outdoors by using a fan or by covering exposed skin with light colored clothing and a hat. Mosquitoes tend to be more of a problem from dusk to dawn.

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Library of Congress Web SiteFurther Reading
  • Clements, A. N. The biology of mosquitoes. London, New York, Chapman & Hall, 1992. 509 p.
  • Enserink, Martin. What mosquitoes want: secrets of host attraction. Science, v. 298, Oct. 4, 2002: 90-92.
  • Fradin, Mark S., and John F. Day. Comparative efficacy of insect repellents against mosquito bites. New England journal of medicine, v. 347, July 4, 2002: 13-18.
  • Gorman, James. Don't get stung: outsmarting the mosquito. New York times, v. 152, July 1, 2003: F5.
  • Himeidan, Y. E., M. I. Elbashir, and I. Adam. Attractiveness of pregnant women to the malaria vector, Anopheles arabiensis, in Sudan. Annals of tropical medicine and parasitology, v. 98, Sept. 2004: 631-633.
  • Horsfall, William Robert. Mosquitoes: their bionomics and relation to disease. New York, Hafner, 1972, c1955. 723 p.
  • Hutt, N. Allergy to mosquito bites. Revue francaise d’allergologie et d’immunologie clinique, v. 46, Apr. 2006: 277-278.
  • The Royal Society. London Exhibition, 2006. Why me? Available: http://www.royalsoc.ac.uk/exhibit.asp?id=4654&tip=1.
  • Stibich, Adam S, Paul A. Carbonaro, and Robert A. Schwartz. Insect bite reactions: an update. Dermatology, v. 202, no. 3, 2001: 193-197.
  • Vince, Gaia. Revealed: what mosquitoes hate about humans. NewScientist.com news service. 11:34 04 July 2006. Use keywords to find story.
  • Why bugs don't bite a lucky few. New Scientist, v. 185, Jan. 22, 2005: 17.
  • Zuger, Abigail. The mystery of itch, the joy of scratch. New York times, v. 152, July 1, 2003: F1, F5.

SearchFor more print resources...
Search on "Mosquito," "Mosquitoes," "Mosquitoes as carriers of disease," "Pesticides," "Malaria," or "West Nile virus" in the Library of Congress Online Catalog.

Drawing of a mosquito as seen from above.
Adult southern house mosquito. Medical Encyclopedia, Medline Plus.

Photo:  close-up of a mosquito on human skin.
Photo: Mosquito. From the USGS Web site.

Satellite photo:  North America, with red color covering much of the United States and parts of Canada.
Distribution of Culex salinarius mosquitos. From the NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center, Scientific Visualization Studio.

Photo:  young woman next to a  clear, rectangular case holding mosquitoes.
Using her hand as bait, this researcher draws mosquitos into a cylindrical trap. From the Center for Medical, Agricultural & Veterinary Entomology, USGA Web site.

Photo: rear view of a person in a mosquito hood., with many mosquitos on the hood.
Mosquito hood. From the National Park Service Web site. Photographer - Don Pendergrast.
Koyukuk Mosquitos

Photo: green, grassy marsh with two huts in the background.
The larvae of Anopheles vestitipennis, a potentially important vector of malaria, occur in cattail marsh habitats. From NASA Earth Observatory Web site.

Woman applying a substance from a bottle onto her arm.
Applying mosquito repellent - From the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site.

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  August 23, 2010
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