The likelihood of being bitten by a mosquito in your lifetime is high. But knowing what might be attracting them can help you take action to reduce your chances of becoming the target of these blood-sucking pests.
What are the signals that mosquitoes are most attracted to? Breath — specifically the carbon dioxide (CO2) you exhale, the smell of your body, the temperature of your skin, and now, according to a 2022 study conducted by the University of Washington in Seattle, the color red.
In addition to being attracted to the color red, the mosquitoes in the study also showed an interest in orange and cyan (a shade of blue). While they completely ignored violet, blue, green, and yellow-green.
This discovery is important because it can help with innovative solutions that assist in reducing the spread of malaria and other life-threatening, mosquito-borne diseases. However, until a sure-fire solution becomes readily available, take a look at what signals attract mosquitoes and how you can decrease your attractiveness.
4 signals our body sends
- Color: You may have heard that wearing light-colored clothes helps deter mosquitoes, which is true. But when it comes to the color your body emits, that’s a layer deeper. When a human emits CO2 into the air it triggers a reaction for a mosquito and they look to see where it’s coming from. Or, as the study reported, they search out visual signals. When presented with varying visual signals – colors in this instance – the mosquitoes showed a preference for red and orange, the color human skin gives off, not the actual pigmentation.
- Breath: Obviously you can’t reduce the rate at which you breathe, or decrease the amount of CO2 your body emits, but what you can do is understand that the more active you are and more CO2 you emit, the more you increase your chances of being noticed by a hungry mosquito. FACT: Only female mosquitoes feed on blood. Male mosquitoes feed on nectar.
- Body odor: Your body odor can be affected by all sorts of factors: your genetic makeup, microscopic bacteria on your skin, hormones, things you eat and drink, and perfumes. However, it’s difficult to pinpoint what odors are appealing to mosquitoes and which ones have them steering clear as reported in a study conducted in 2011.
- Temperature: Whether you’re hot or cold, your body emits a heat signature that mosquitoes can detect. This allows them to hone in on you once they receive your CO2 signal. These signals paired together indicate that you are a warm-blooded mammal and good for the taking.
Reducing your exposure to mosquitoes
- Wear white or light colors: The color of your clothing is not going to completely stop a mosquito from diving in, but it could sway it to target someone else who is wearing a dark color. Why is this? Because dark colors trap heat and light colors reflect it. And, your heat signature attracts mosquitoes, so dark colors will amplify it. Light colors help to diffuse it.
- Layer up: It’s a hard pill to swallow when it’s hot outside, but throwing on a shirt with long sleeves and a long pair of pants helps to prevent mosquito bites. For a little extra protection, apply permethrin to your clothes and other outdoorsy things such as tents, backpacks, shoes, camping chairs, etc.
- Apply repellent: The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists several EPA-approved mosquito repellents that will provide protection from mosquito species known for transmitting diseases such as West Nile virus. Look for insect repellents containing picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus, or DEET. And, be sure to read the label before applying.
- Don’t forget your pet: There are several prescription and over-the-counter products that can help protect pets from mosquito-borne illnesses – heartworm being one of the most common. For the best protection for your pet, reach out to your veterinarian for recommendations. WARNING: Avoid products that aren’t specifically formulated for pets. DEET and citronella are toxic to pets. And, essential oils can be too. What’s approved for human use, may be toxic for your cat or dog.
For more information on mosquito bite prevention, visit the CDC.
Guard your yard: Keep mosquitoes away
- Eliminate standing water and clean out fountains, birdbaths, and pet bowls often. One tablespoon of water can provide a breeding ground for mosquitoes.
- Keep vegetation trimmed back to eliminate possible mosquito resting spots.
- Even Mother Nature can lend a helping hand in the fight against mosquitoes. These plants are said to help deter mosquitoes, and you can use some of them in your favorite recipes: basil, lemon balm, rosemary, and catnip.
- Start monthly mosquito treatments in the spring to reduce mosquito populations in and around your yard.
Keep mosquitoes from coming back
When it comes to protecting yourself, your family, and your pets from mosquitoes, hiring a certified mosquito control expert is your best line of defense. Not only can regular mosquito treatments significantly reduce mosquito populations, they can help prevent mosquitoes from returning by targeting eggs, larvae, and adults.