What Attracts Mosquitoes?

woman applying insect repellant while on a hike

The National Institutes of Health have used scientific research (and tax dollars!) to discover what the rest of us have known all our lives: Mosquitoes will find us from far away, and attack our most vulnerable places. That’s right: Experts know what attracts mosquitoes. Let’s discover what draws them in and how you can minimize your risk of being on the mosquito menu.

Wondering why mosquitoes seem to prefer biting you instead of other people? Read our personal experience to find out one of the reasons why.

The Science of Mosquito Attraction

StepDistanceProcess
1.More than 30 feet awayFemale mosquitoes have a receptor that will detect carbon dioxide, usually in the air being exhaled
2.Approaching youMosquitoes will approach, using other receptors that find   the skin odor of humans. They hone in on it.
3.Too close to youWhen a mosquito gets very close, it finds body heat. Scientists don’t know the reason for it, only that it happens.
4.On youOnce a mosquito lands on you, it detects lactic acid and uses that as the place to bite. 
  • Pregnant women give off more carbon dioxide and have warmer bodies than others. That makes them even more of a target for mosquitoes, an irony being that the only mosquitoes that bite humans are females who need blood to fertilize eggs.
  • If skin odorants are placed near mosquitoes (mostly done in tests), they will pick up the scent of body odor without the need for the carbon dioxide stage of mosquito attraction. 
  • If inanimate objects are heated to the same temperatures as people, mosquitoes go after those objects.
  • Among the mosquito species most attracted to lactic acid is Aedes aegypti, which transmits yellow fever and is moving into America’s urban areas.
  • Many skin moisturizers sold in stores contain lactic acid. The very product people use to look better is making them look better to, well, mosquitoes. 

In addition, products used to exfoliate skin often use alpha hydroxy acids, so again you are not only making yourself more attractive to other people, but also to mosquitoes.

Blood Type

The reason isn’t known, but mosquitoes react differently to humans based on their blood type.

Aedes mosquitoes are drawn to Type O human blood, according to a study conducted in 2004 in which 64 volunteers offered their arms to mosquitoes so scientists could determine whether blood types mattered. The findings:

  • Type O blood, 78.5% of the mosquitoes landed on them instead of the control subject
  • Type B blood, 56.9% 
  • Type AB blood, 48.0% 
  • Type A blood, 45.3% 

Backyard Attractants

Some of the things that people enjoy the most in their backyards, food and water, are also the things the mosquitoes are attracted to.

Where mosquitoes like to be around your home
Photo Credit: chuckcollier / Canva Pro / License with text overlay created on Canva Pro

Food 

Scientific research has found connection between these foods and mosquitoes:

  • Beer. People who consume beer attract mosquitoes. It has nothing to do with the carbon dioxide being exhaled or the increase in body temperature of beer drinkers. 
  • Bananas. It has been a folk saying for centuries that eating a banana attracts mosquitoes. But a research experiment in 2018 found that it is true, calling it “a surprising result.” In the same test, they found that eating grapes had no effect.

There are foods that are believed to attract mosquitoes, but there is no science to support the belief:

  • Sweets with sugar. Ice cream, cake, pastries, candy, and other sugary treats have always attracted people, who have always complained that they attract mosquitoes, too.
  • Foods Rich in Potassium: In addition to bananas, prunes, lima beans, potatoes, raisins, avocados, and spinach have a lot of potassium, which causes your body to give off the lactic acid that mosquitoes crave. 
  • Salty foods such as potato chips, pretzels, nuts, and crackers also cause an increase in lactic acid.

A pro’s tip: It has long been said that people can ward off mosquitoes by taking vitamin B12 or eating or wearing (!) garlic. However, scientific testing found they had no effect at all.

Standing Water

Mosquitoes breed in water, so they look for it. 

  • Swamps, with some species preferring them for the plant and animal life
  • Rivers that move slowly 
  • Streams that move slowly 
  • Irrigated ground, including meadows and fields
  • Ditches, especially when water from a storm or flooding is left to become stagnant
  • Puddles in a field or in a city
  • Lawns that were over-watered
  • Pools. Swimming, wading, even ornamental ones
  • Bird baths that don’t get fresh water regularly
  • Buckets that have even a bit of water left in them
  • Wheelbarrows left out
  • Toys abandoned and allowed to catch water

Floral Smell

Scientific research has been done into mosquitoes’ sense of smell. Researchers have found what attracts them: floral scent.   

This leads to the first place where floral scents attract mosquitoes, flowers in the wild:

  • Male mosquitoes consume the nectar of flowers. It is their only source of food.
  • Female mosquitoes consume nectar except for the few days of their lives when they consume human blood so they can fertilize their eggs.

A scientist’s tip: In a study of the role mosquitoes play as pollinators of orchids, scientists found mosquitoes were attracted to some orchids, but not others. Yet, they would always make their way to the right ones, and ignore the others, proving to study participants that attraction is based on the chemicals of an orchid, not the shape. 


Firsthand Experience: Why Do Mosquitoes Have a Personal Vendetta Against Me?

Maria Isabela Reis, LawnStarter writer
Maria Isabela Reis

Picture this: a warm evening, my husband and I lounging outside. He’s as shirtless as a day at the beach, yet I’m bundled up with a long-sleeved shirt and pants. Despite my layers, those pesky mosquitoes find that one patch of exposed skin, be it my neck or my fingers. It’s like I’m their favorite buffet, and they’ve all got VIP passes!

Diving into my research for PestGnome, I uncovered some fascinating tidbits. Turns out, mosquitoes have a rather refined sense of smell. I was, unknowingly, rolling out the red carpet for them with my array of scented products — colognes, moisturizers, soaps, you name it. My aromatic ensemble was basically a neon ‘bite me’ sign.

Armed with this insight, I switched to unscented products. The result? A dramatic drop in those uninvited nibbles. Now, when we lounge outside, guess who’s desperately swatting away while I sit serenely, enjoying my newfound mosquito-free aura?

Maria Isabela Reis


cartoon depicting what scents humans give off that attract mosquitoes
Photo Credit: Freepik / License with text overlay created on Canva Pro

Mosquitoes are therefore attracted to humans that use products with floral scents:

  • Soap. A tip: While most floral scents attract mosquitoes, compounds in coconut oil drive them away. 
  • Shampoo
  • Conditioner
  • Hair spray
  • Perfume/Cologne. Floral scent is the most popular one used.
  • Shaving cream, as well as aftershave
  • Lotions 
  • Deodorants
  • Skin moisturizers. Many put them on before they go out. Perhaps to avoid swatting, you should wait until you come in for the day.
  • Hand cream
  • Makeup. A major trend in fashion is makeup with floral scent, according to GlamAI, a site that uses Artificial Intelligence to follow all the beauty websites.

Household products that use floral scents:

  • Laundry detergents. Liquids and solids.
  • Fabric softeners. Especially the highly scented fabric softeners that became popular in Japan in the 2000s and have spread to the U.S.
  • Dryer sheets. Which are also being used to smooth unruly hair (especially flyaways in children), polish shoes, clean computer screens and keyboards, wipe greasy areas at the oven, and other things.
  • Air fresheners. Also known as room fresheners.
  • Carpet fresheners. Which are too often used to mask a smell rather than remove it. 

A scientist’s tip: It is better for the environment and your health (to avoid allergies and chemical issues) to use unscented products. This actually has nothing to do with mosquitoes, but if you aren’t using products with floral scents, you won’t have what attracts mosquitoes.

How to Prevent Mosquito Bites

parent using bug spray on child
Photo Credit: galitskaya / Canva Pro / License

Let’s face it, mosquitoes aren’t only a nuisance, they carry mosquito-borne diseases that can affect you and even your pets. And your lawn isn’t the only one affected: Mosquitoes are a major public health concern. And it only takes a small saucer of water to cause the mosquito population to soar in your lawn. Take these precautions to prevent mosquito bites in your lawn.

  • Use mosquito repellents: Insect repellents may not be new or cool, but when used correctly, they can drastically reduce your chance at becoming a buffet for these blood-sucking creatures or contracting serious diseases.
  • Wear baggy clothing with long sleeves and pants: Cover as much of your skin as you can.
  • Physical barriers, such as screens on windows and doors.
  • Protect babies. During mosquito season, cover cribs, playpens, and strollers with fine mesh or mosquito netting.
  • Wear light colors. Mosquitos seem to be attracted to dark colors, or dark contrasts.
  • Avoid floral scents. Mosquitoes are attracted to them. 

FAQs

Do Mosquitoes Smell You?

Yes, entomologist Daniel L. Kline tested the attractiveness of socks worn by humans. The results: Mosquitoes love them.

Kline also found that mosquitoes love Limburger cheese. “Interestingly enough, the main ingredient in the cheese is a bacterium that can be found on the human foot,” he says.

Limburger cheese was first made by monks in The Netherlands. They trampled the cheese with their feet to get the finished product.

Are Mosquitoes Attracted to a Particular Color?

Mosquitoes had a distinct preference for the color that humans see as red, according to a research report published in the journal Nature Communications. The authors make the point that more research is needed to understand and use the information.

A common folk saying is that dark clothing attracts mosquitoes. But the same study found that mosquitoes weren’t attracted to a color, but to contrast; say, a dark cup lying on a white patio, or wearing a black shirt on a sunny summer day.

Can a Person’s Diet Matter to a Mosquito?

People who have molecules enriched with a compound known as eucalyptol instead of the standard airborne carboxylic acids were not attractive at all to mosquitoes in a research study. This may have been due to the person’s plant-based diet. More research is needed to establish the point, and be able to use it.

A Call to Action

Researchers are investing ever increasing amounts of time and money into the study of mosquitoes. You can follow that, understand what attracts them, and decide if you want to take action. Decide what you want to do, then act.

You can take on mosquitoes as a do-it-yourself project, making it a point to make places less attractive to them, or leave this job to the pros. To find a mosquito service near you, contact Pest Gnome to connect you with a professional. 

Main Photo Credit: Zbynek Pospisil / Canva Pro / License

Ted Rodgers

Ted Rodgers has been an editor and writer for a half century at least, and has had to deal with pests throughout. His home is still standing, which is one (small) definition of success in dealing with them. He is willing to pause in his battles long enough to share what he has learned. He borrows from Beatrix Potter when he shares this truth about pests: “Tiddly, widdly, but not piddly.”

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