Does this happen to you. You are sitting in a room full of people. There is one mosquito in the room. The mosquito picks you, despite the fact that you’re definitely not the juiciest, in terms of having the most soft squishy bits.
I am that person ! I feel victimized by mosquitoes.
According to research from Wageningen University, mosquitoes select their next victim, not based on texture but on smell. Specifically they like people with smelly feet.
Mosquito smell their victims
Anopheles gambiae, the type of mosquito which not only sucks your blood, but can leave you with a rather unwelcome guest, in the form of the malaria parasite, uses its well developed olfactory organs to find its dinner.
The first signal that dinner is in the neighbourhood, is actually the tiny trail of CO2 breathed out of a living being.
Zoning in on the victim
Now it doesn’t take much knowledge of biology to realize that CO2 is coming out of your mouth / nose area.
But face feeding is an extremely rare phenomenon. Mosquitoes typically head for your feet and always manage to find the one spot you missed, when you layered on that obnoxious smelling insect repellent.
So CO2 trail only brings the mosquito to within striking distance of dinner.
Once in the vicinity of a victim, they switch sensors and seek out “smelly” feet.
Bacteria make feet smell
Bacteria living on the human foot are responsible for “smelly feet”. I’m sure bacteria partying in sweaty socks that have been on for hours, can also play a role, but even when you put on fresh and clean and tra….la….la socks – you can still be bitten.
Researchers from Wageningen University confirmed that it was the noxious gasses of these foot residents, which were acting as the landing beacon for the mosquito.
The exact blend is largely dependent on the nature of your bacterial community. And just like perfume, so blends are more attractive to hungry mosquitoes than others.
PS. My foot perfume must be particularly attractive.
Bacterial gasses are the mosquito homing beacon
The bacterial odours are powerful enough to temporarily knock down the CO2 sensing system, which is the reason the mosquito turns southwards and veers towards the feet.
Camouflage or bait ‘n switch
So the secret to not being bitten is to make sure your friends have foul smelling feet so they become more attractive to Mrs Mozzie. Failing this, then camouflage your bacterial perfume with a more noxious planty smell, such as citronella to cause confusion.
And take comfort, if you find yourself donating blood to produce baby mosquitoes – it isn’t a picnic for the mosquito tapping into your red hot piping juice, she suffers just a little !Malaria mosquitoes accurately find their way to smelly feet – a press release from Wageningen University and Research Centre
Interested in meeting the microflora that are manipulating your chemistry ?
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