Mosquitoes may be one of the most annoying insects on the globe. They buzz around, making their presence known as major pests. And worst of all, they can also bring disease with them. The last thing anyone wants is a mosquito to bite them and give them an illness.
Knowing more about mosquitoes and how they find humans can be an important piece of information. It can give you the key that you need to keep mosquitoes away and enjoy your time outdoors without worries of impending visitors.
What Are Mosquitos?
We know mosquitoes as these annoying little insects that bite us and suck on our blood. But what do we know about them, really? Mosquitoes are one of the more stubborn insects around and actually have more than 3,500 different species in the world.
Both the female and male feed on nectar but the female mosquitoes will suck on blood from victims in order to provide the blood that is needed to properly develop their eggs. They feed at all times of the day and it is during this feeding stage that those mosquitoes will spread a wide range of viruses, some of which are the most dangerous in the world.
The way that mosquitoes feed is through their proboscis, which is the long needle-line part of their mouth. It can even resemble a tube to some. But if you look at it under magnification, you will notice that the mouth of the mosquito actually comes in six different parts.
The maxillae and mandibles are basically blades at the end of the proboscis and are capable of plunging through the flesh and skin of their victim in order to suck out the blood. When they hit a vessel, the two biggest tubes in the proboscis work.
Lastly, the hypopharynx delivers the mosquitoes’ saliva while the labrum sucks out the blood. The delivery of the saliva is what prevents the blood from being able to clot. And, as anyone who has been bitten by a mosquito can attest to, the resulting reaction is an itchy, red bump that appears on the skin.
How Do They Find Humans?
When mosquitoes are looking for a meal (blood), they tend to use a variety of clues in order to track down humans and animals to do so. The primary things that they look for are the carbon dioxide from our breath and our body heat.
There have also been recent studies that have shown that there is an olfactory receptor located in their antennae that can detect humans as well. They do this through the chemicals that are in our sweat, which are apparently attractive to mosquitoes.
Let’s take a deeper look at all of the factors involved and how mosquitoes could potentially be attracted to us.
Mosquitoes are able to see signs that there are humans in the vicinity. There have been studies that show that mosquitoes can see a host when it is within 50 feet (15 meters) of them. This is true even in the dark.
The mosquitoes let visual cues become their signal and draws them even closer to the humans that they intend to bite. Even in darkness, if a mosquito is within 50 feet of you, it will be able to see you without much of an issue.
Mosquitoes are also heavily drawn to the carbon dioxide that we and other animals create whenever a breath is exhaled. Since we exhale quite a bit during the day, this can create a large amount of CO2 that winds up attracting the mosquitos.
What you may not have realized is that increased CO2 levels are a fantastic way to track down humans. This is why you may notice that customs officers use it to try to find potential human trafficking and smuggling at the borders. During disaster relief efforts, CO2 can even be used to find humans who have been buried underneath the rubble.
So it only makes sense that mosquitoes would use this as a way to track down humans (aka their food source). Mosquitoes can detect carbon dioxide even if we wear heavy clothing and blankets as well. That smell attracts mosquitoes because they have very highly tuned olfactory receptors that pick up on the smell of the CO2 that we emit.
The last method that mosquitoes use to track down their source of food is through thermal attraction. When they are about three feet away from someone, they can begin to sense the body heat of that source. They use everything else to get within range and use their thermal detection to close that final distance.
A recent study showed that researchers built two glass objects and coated each in a chemical that allowed them to be heated to any temperature. One was left at room temperature while the other was heated up to the average human body temperature. When placed in a wind tunnel, the mosquitoes showed a much stronger preference for the warmer of the two objects.
So even if the detection of CO2 is what brings them to the area, it will be that heat signature that ultimately leads them to their targets.
Are Mosquitoes Attracted to Light?
Some bugs, primarily moths, are attracted to bright lights. If you have a back porch light, you may notice a buildup of bugs when it is dark out and the light is on. But does it wind up attracting mosquitoes to the backyard too?
The fact of the matter is that mosquitoes generally avoid direct exposure to light. This is because prolonged exposure to sunlight will dehydrate them quite easily and they will die. Still, that doesn’t mean that they avoid light entirely.
While sunlight will wind up dehydrating them, not all sources of light have the same impact. Generally speaking, mosquitoes are nighttime bugs. They will use local light sources to help them properly navigate the area. They also don’t see light the way that humans do.
Artificial lighting, such as that from a porch light, can actually make it difficult for mosquitoes to navigate the nighttime. This can confuse them and throw them away from the improper angles that they need to see their food sources.
Because the light from the stars and the moon is so far away, this type of light doesn’t really have much of an impact on them. They can still maintain proper angles so that they can see their source of food easily.
Use Smells That They Hate
One great way to get rid of mosquitoes is to use a smell that they hate. There are some natural repellents out there that can add a great smell to your home and will be able to keep those nasty little pests away from your yard.
Try scents such as lavender, basil, peppermint, eucalyptus, lemongrass, lemon balm, garlic, rosemary, and citronella. They all provide a wonderful, natural smell that won’t make it obvious that they are being used to ward off mosquitoes.
Use a Chemical Repellent
Perhaps the most common way for homeowners to keep mosquitoes at bay is to use a chemical repellant specially designed to keep them away. Not only will this chemical repellent keep them from biting you but it will help to keep them away from your yard entirely.
The products that you want should have products with 30% to 50% DEET in them. The Environmental Protection Agency has performed studies that demonstrated that, contrary to popular belief, it is perfectly fine for current safety standards when it is properly used.
Just exercise caution when you spray it. Having pets and small children in particular can necessitate extra care, which is why so many look to go for a more natural repellant (see the previous section).
Use an Outdoor Soap
There are some outdoor soaps that were specifically created to keep mosquitoes away. You can bathe with them as they are 100% natural and completely non-toxic. Bathing with them will not only help to keep you from sweating but actually keep mosquitoes away from you.
As you can tell, their sense of smell is one of their strongest traits and they will use it to track down their food source from pretty sizable distances. Remove some of the scents, replace them with some that they hate, and you can keep mosquitoes at bay.
If you have ever seen someone burning candles on their patio or back porch, there is a reason for that. Candles are similar to essential oils in that their natural scent can make for a great mosquito repellent.
Burn candles that have citronella, lavender, or other popular insect-repelling scents and you can not only keep them away from your home but enjoy the wonderful smell as well. It is a great way to provide ambiance without creating an overwhelmingly chemical smell that can be so bothersome.
You may also want to take the time to clean out the candle wax from time to time. Some insects are drawn to the warmth and can wind up getting trapped in the melted wax.