It never fails. There you are, minding your own business setting up a picnic or hiking in the woods, when a mosquito comes from out of nowhere to suck your blood. How did that bug even find you?
It turns out, mosquitoes have an elaborate system for tracking down their blood supply (you) and new research finally sheds light on how all of the components of their method come together to help them succeed.
Basically, mosquitoes use a three-pronged approach to find you: smell, sight and heat. It all starts with your breath. Mosquitoes are attracted to carbon dioxide, the gas that we exhale every time we breathe. They love carbon dioxide, and they can smell it from as far as 50 meters away. Next, they use their sight to get a general idea from that distance where the CO2 is coming from. And finally, they hone in on your heat.
The findings, published in the journal Current Biology, confirm previous research that looked at how mosquitoes use their sense of smell to find humans. But this was the first time that scientists were able to put all of the pieces together to understand how they use smell, sight and heat to find their next mark. They did it by isolating each of the stimuli in a wind tunnel that was filled with hungry mosquitoes.
Researchers used a plume of CO2 to represent the gas smell, a black dot on the floor to serve as a visual stimulant, and a heated pane of glass to understand how the mosquitoes used heat to detect their prey. By teasing these stimuli apart, they were able to see how the mosquitoes used them together.
For instance, when the black dot was present in the tunnel by itself, the mosquitoes did not bother with it. But when the dot was accompanied by a puff of CO2, they went straight for it. This strategy probably helps the mosquitoes save time that might be wasted investigating other interesting visual stimuli such as rocks or vegetation. They only scope out a target when the odor tells them there is a host nearby. Then as they get closer, they can pinpoint our location by our heat.
Unfortunately for us, this boils down to one indisputable fact — mosquitoes are awfully good at tracking us down. And unless you want to stop breathing and giving off warmth while you make yourself invisible it's going to be hard to hide from them. But that doesn't mean you need to roll over and take the bites. Here are some of our best tricks and natural solutions to avoiding those mosquito bites.