A mosquito feeding on a person's hand.
Getty Images: flubydust

Research Project Reveals the Key Scents and Colors Mosquitoes Use to Hunt

Science is revealing more about what attracts mosquitoes.

Mosquitoes are some of the most annoying insects on the planet.

It's the one thing we hate about camping in the summer months, when black clouds of these annoying biters descend upon us in droves. If you've ever noticed a friend or family member who seems to be more of a mosquito magnet than others, recent scientific findings are telling us it may not be coincidence. In fact, it may be the clothes they are wearing that makes them appear tastier than everyone else in the group.

Sci-News reports that researchers at the University of Washington have been conducting studies on what attracts mosquitoes, and they have come up with some interesting results that seem to indicate the biting pests respond more to certain colors and scents.

"When they smell specific compounds, like carbon dioxide from our breath, that scent stimulates the eyes to scan for specific colors and other visual patterns which are associated with a potential host, and head to them," Professor Jeffrey Riffell told Sci-News.

More specifically, they found mosquitoes respond more favorably after smelling carbon dioxide along with the presence of red, black, or orange. They determined this using sealed test chambers with individual mosquitoes inside. They then presented the mosquitoes with different odors and visual stimuli to gauge their response.

Factors Proven to Attract Mosquitoes

If you ever wondered how mosquitoes find you so quickly in the forest, it seems that carbon dioxide, which people and animals exhale with each breath of air, is key. Humans cannot smell this gas, but mosquitoes can, and they use it to locate their meals.

When the researchers presented mosquitoes with colors alone, they largely ignored them. However, when they added carbon dioxide into the mix, the mosquitoes flew towards red, black, and orange most often.

Scientists still aren't entirely sure how mosquitoes view the world. However, it seems they respond to longer wavelengths of light more favorably. Unfortunately for us, human skin gives off a red-orange range wavelength signal regardless of pigmentation, which means the little bugs are primed to hunt for us.

You're probably wondering what colors the mosquitoes ignored the most. It turns out green, blue, and purple drew the least attention from these pesky biters. The researchers also conducted experiments with either a green glove or a bare hand hidden with filters to remove that key red-orange wavelength of light. When they did that, mosquitoes ignored the researcher's hand, both with the green glove and bare. The same ignoring occurred even if the bugs were triggered into a feeding mode with carbon dioxide.

It's definitely an interesting revelation about how mosquitoes hunt. It seems as though it would pay to remember to wear blue, green, or purple this summer when these biting insects are at their heaviest.

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