Mosquito Magnet

May 22, 2023
Mosquito on green leaf

What really matters to the mosquito is not the most abundant type of chemical, it’s really those chemical interactions and relative abundances.

Clément Vinauger, assistant professor of biochemistry at Virginia Tech after testing the use of four common soaps and their attractiveness to certain types of mosquitoes.

The Big Picture: Researchers in Zambia built the “world’s largest perfumery for mosquitos” to test why some people get bitten more than others. Using different human scents, they found certain mosquitos (I.e., malaria carrying mosquitos or yellow fever carrying mosquitos) are drawn to specific chemicals, therefore helping pave the road for more effective preventative measures in the future.

Mosquitoes "use visual cues and body warmth to seek their prey. But when they're out of visual range– which could be a few dozen feet away– they are thought to track carbon dioxide and other chemicals found in body odor and breath." (The Washington Post)

Why It Matters: More broadly, researchers identified that distinctive body odor can lead to more bites. The insects are drawn to BO more so than some other scents, and "can find us from 350 feet away once they get a whiff" – Here's a little more:

"The mosquitoes were most attracted to airborne carboxylic acids, including butyric acid, a compound present in “stinky” cheeses such as Limburger. These carboxylic acids are produced by bacteria on human skin and tend not to be noticeable to us.

While carboxylic acids attracted the mosquitoes, the insects seemed to be deterred by another chemical called eucalyptol, which is present in plants. The researchers suspected that one sample with a high eucalyptol concentration might have been related to the diet of one of the participants." (CNN)

by Jenna Lee,