Some people are more attractive to mosquitoes

… and scientists now know why


With the recent rain in Madeira – and more forecast – mosquitoes are predictably becoming more commonplace once again, although this year has seen very few in Funchal.

By coincidence, The Telegraph last week published an interesting article explaining that it is the concentration of chemicals in our skin determines the chances of being bitten or not, according to new research

Some people really are mosquito magnets and produce chemicals on their skin that attract the blood-sucking insects, scientists have discovered. A study from Rockefeller University in the US found that some people really do get more bites than others and it is due to a higher level of chemicals called carboxylic acids. 

These chemicals form a natural part of our skin secretions but vary in concentration on an individual basis. Scientists had previously speculated over whether the unequal distribution of bites was due to something attracting them, or if there was some form of a natural repellent and the new study, published in the scientific journal Cell, shows it to be the former. 

A group of three people made up the pilot study and they wore nylon stockings on their forearms and went about their daily business. Researchers put the stockings in a box with mosquitoes to see if the insects preferred some to others and found they did, with one person in the study being the most desirable.  Further recruitment of sweat donors led to eight people entering into a “round-robin style ‘tournament” to see who was the most and least attractive to mosquitoes. 

Four times as attractive to mosquitoes

The super-attractor from the first stage was found to be four times as attractive to the mosquitoes as the next most inviting, and 100 times more enticing for mosquitos than the two people in whom the mosquitoes had no interest. 

“We provide empirical evidence that mosquitoes strongly prefer some people over others and that the olfactory cues that make some people ‘‘mosquito magnets’’ are stable over many months,” the researchers wrote. 

Chemical analysis on the nylon sleeves revealed the difference in desirability corresponded with wide variations in the level of around 50 chemicals, mainly carboxylic acids. A second study to prove the findings on a total of 64 people further corroborated the theory. 

The researchers say the findings were “remarkably stable over many months”, indicating there is little anyone can do to alter their mosquito-baiting scent. 
“The best thing a person can do (whether they are a mosquito magnet or not!) is to apply a repellent, such as DEET, to their skin, since this compound somehow overrides the many attractive signals that direct the mosquito to bite our skin,” study lead author Dr Maria Elena De Obaldia told The Telegraph.

“Hypothetically, an alternate approach to repellents is to try to “dampen” or “remove” attractive cues – however, this is complicated (and less likely to work) because humans emit multiple types of attractive cues (exhaled CO2, body heat, and many compounds that make up human skin odour).”

COVID-19 in Madeira: updates can be found in an earlier post

Some people are more attractive to mosquitoes 1

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8 thoughts on “Some people are more attractive to mosquitoes”

  1. The best mossie repellent is Avon Skin so Soft original dry oil spray . Mossies hate it . It was used in Afghanistan by soldiers . V effective against any nasties .

  2. As Jane says Avon SSS does the trick, whether the strong scent of it dampens the attractive cues as the article says but it works and at about £3.50 for a 150 ml bottle is less expensive than many Deet products on the market.

    Another tip if the bites are driving you mad try taking an anti-histamine ( hay fever ) tablet to ease the itching. There’s also an ointment called Systral available in Farmácias here in Madeira.

    Here’s a link to the Marines take on Skin So Soft

  3. Systral cream is the very best you can purchase for relief of the blitters bites, I use it all the time but it doesn’t stop the bites, have tried a roll on deet ( very expensive) and it didn’t work, it will be interesting to see if new better working products come out in the future based on this new study, I for one would be in the chemist straight away.

  4. Michael , please try Avon SSS.
    It must be the original one not the new ones. It smells quite nice. You won’t get bitten because they hate it. If my memory serves me right , it contains a type of citronella .
    I used to get plastered in bites . Not been bitten since .


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