What Is a Mosquito Magnet?
Has mosquito music taken over your dreams? Do your mornings start with eye bags and annoying itchy red bumps? Have those pesky flyers defeated all the remedies you’ve tried while the rest of the world goes about its business without a hitch? If you answered yes to all of these questions, then my friend you might be a mosquito magnet!
There are many theories as to why mosquitoes target some people more than others, from factors ranging from blood type, blood sugar and consumption of garlic or bananas to being a woman or even a child.
Why Are Some People More Attractive to Mosquitoes Than Others?
A group of researchers from the Rockefeller University decided to find the final answer. For three years, they studied the response of female Aedes aegypti mosquitoes – the vector species of major diseases such as Zika, dengue, yellow fever and chikungunya – to nylon stockings worn by the eight participants in the study.
female mosquitoes were placed in a Plexiglas chamber and allowed to fly through the tubes in one of these eight socks. The most attractive target was the sock, into which the mosquito was most forced.
There was a clear advantage for the mosquitoes, who found one participant’s socks four times more attractive than the next participant, and an astonishing 100 times more attractive than the least attractive. After sorting the socks marked by attraction, the researchers conducted experiments to find out why.
Chemical analyzes were used to identify 50 molecular compounds that were increased in the highly attractive sebum (the moisture barrier of human skin) of the participants. This helped the researchers identify the main culprit: a compound called carboxylic acid, which was produced by mosquito magnets but not by others. Bacteria on human skin use such organic compounds in fat to produce the characteristic human odor.
“There is a very, very strong relationship between high levels of fatty acids in your skin and mosquito magnets,” says Vosshall, Robin Chemers Neustein Professor at Rockefeller University and director of research at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
Even after 50 more participants were included in a subsequent validation study, the mosquito preference did not waver. They stayed true to their favorite food not just for a few days, but for years!
Scientists even beat the olfactory receptors of female mosquitoes, hoping to develop ones that couldn’t detect humans, but to no avail. It turns out that these insects love their food so much that they have developed safe techniques to hunt humans!
How Can You Avoid Being a Mosquito Magnet?
Mosquitoes are a nuisance and they can be quite a problem in some places. If you want to avoid being one of these mosquito magnets, there are some things you should do.
First, make sure your outdoor space is well-lit. Mosquitoes are attracted to dark areas because they use the light as a food source. Second, keep your outdoor area clean and tidy to avoid attracting more mosquitoes. Third, make sure that you take care of yourself by wearing long sleeves and pants when outside to protect yourself from mosquito bites. Fourth, try using natural repellents like citronella candles or essential oils with lavender or peppermint oil for an added protection against mosquitoes and other bugs.
Do mosquito magnets stay “magnetic” forever?
Two things have been discovered so far: first, mosquito odor meters are unbreakable (probably due to years of development!); and secondly, once a mosquito magnet, always a mosquito magnet…at least for now.
While such magnets won’t disappear from the mosquito menu anytime soon, researchers hope that dietary or microbiome interventions that alter skin microbiota or the interactions of these bacteria could turn mosquito magnets into mosquito repellents.
Looking at this possibility, Leslie Vosshall, director of the Rockefeller Laboratory of Neurogenetics and Behavior, added, “It’s a difficult experiment. But if it were successful, you could imagine doing a diet or a microbiome intervention where you put bacteria on the skin that could somehow change the interaction with sebum… But this is very speculative.
At the same time, with reports of dengue and chikungunya epidemics in several parts of India, it is essential to do everything possible to stay away from these carriers.
Important measures includes keeping the environment clean, keeping water in homes or the environment, covering the body well and using mosquito nets and repellents when possible. And keeping our weapon (newspaper or electric baton) next to the bed is always a plus.
The study was published earlier this week in the journal Cell and can be read here.
Q: What are the best mosquito repellents?
A: The most effective mosquito repellent is DEET. It is an insecticide that is safe to use and has been used for many years. If you want to use another type of mosquito repellent, then you should look into natural options such as citronella or eucalyptus OIL.
Q: How Can You Protect Your Home From Mosquitoes?
A: The most common way to protect your home from mosquitoes is by using a mosquito net. You can also use a mosquito repellent or spray your home with insecticides.