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June 7, 2019 / Flying Pests

How Mosquitoes Smell Out Their Prey

How Mosquitoes Smell Out Their Prey

As humans, we have a plethora of resources we can use to find food and satisfy our appetites, from the stocked pantries in our own kitchens to new burger joints that seem to pop up every week around town.

But what about mosquitoes?

New research suggests mosquitoes have a method for finding five-star dining the same way humans have been doing since way before the dawn of take-out and delivery: they follow their noses.

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The Nose Knows

Mosquitoes use a variety of senses to stalk their prey, which includes humans, as well as other thin-skinned members of the animal kingdom.

First, at about 10 to 50 yards away, they sniff out the carbon dioxide excreted in our breath. Hot on our trail at this distance, they use their compound eyes to scope us out, each one containing hundreds of individual lenses. Finally, as they get within inches, they sense our body heat and zero in on their target.

Here’s where it gets weird: After they land, they “taste” our skin with their legs while they look for a place to dig in.

Here’s where it gets even weirder: Just like us, mosquitoes have dining preferences.

Whereas one day you might be in the mood for pizza, the next day hoagies, and some other time Mediterranean, what happens when a mosquito is in the mood for… you?

It turns out, if mosquitoes have a particular hankering, they can use an olfactory receptor (i.e. “smeller”) in their antennae to identify odoriferous chemicals in our sweat to help them seek us out.

They don’t pick up just any sweat, mind you. This receptor is tuned to specifically detect human sweat. And if mosquitos are good at anything, it’s sniffing out their preferred meal.

That’s because, unlike humans, mosquitoes actually have three “noses” for smelling: one is their antennae, another is a bump-like appendage near the mouth called a maxillary palp, and the third is their proboscis (what we typically think of as a “nose”).

For most people, their first line of defense against mosquitos comes in the form of insect repellent containing either DEET or picaridin (and those that don’t have been shown to be effectively useless in real-world testing). This is one of the areas where the latest research may yield dramatic advances in mosquito-repelling technology.

If scientists can learn how to block or mask the IR8a pathway (that’s the receptor tuned specifically to human scent), they could effectively camouflage our odor so mosquitoes pass us up, effectively doubling the protection offered by products such as OFF! and Repel.

Even better, the IR8a receptor could actually be triggered to lure mosquitoes away from people and into traps.

An Ounce of Prevention

Even though the use of this technology is still on the horizon, there are still plenty of measures you can take to keep yourself and your family safe from mosquitoes and the variety of diseases they carry, besides maintaining a thick coat of repellent on your skin.

5 DIY Tips to Take Cover from Mosquitoes

  • Go Undercover—Even if it’s warm out, long-sleeve shirts and pants will cover your skin and help protect you from mosquito bites. Combine this technique with a fan (see below) to double your mosquito-repelling effectiveness.
  • A Different Kind of Screen Time—Screens let fresh air in but keep the bugs, including mosquitoes, locked out. Screens are actually one of the oldest methods of mosquito prevention known to man. Before we had aerosol cans and bug zappers, we had mesh tents and bed covers. Take a lesson from history, and use the best DIY bug barrier ever developed whenever you can.
  • No Standing Room—Standing water is like a labor and delivery ward for mosquitoes and other critters. Ensure proper drainage on your property doesn’t leave water pooled for long (it only takes four days for freshly-laid mosquito eggs to hatch) will help keep your yard free of pests.
  • It’s a Jungle Out There—The more wild the foliage in your yard, the more wildlife will call it home. Keeping your yard mowed and hedges trimmed, as well as cleaning up any dead debris, limits areas where mosquitoes like to hunker down and allows the sun to dry up any remaining dampness after a rain.
  • Mosquitos Aren’t Big Fans of Fans—Keeping the air circulating breaks up scents that might draw mosquitoes near you, as well as creates a pretty turbulent landing path even if they do decide to try to stop in for a bite.

Go Pro

Nothing tops the experts when it comes to combating mosquitoes. Our pest management professionals have access to effective treatments and insect control systems not available to the general public. Backed by decades of experience successfully ridding residents of New England from pesky mosquitoes, our team is standing by when you’re ready to request a free quote for professional mosquito removal and prevention.

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