Are you a “mosquito magnet?” Based on a study published Tuesday, there is real evidence that proves some people really do attract mosquitoes more than others — and it has to do with your smell.

What smell attracts mosquitoes?

In a paper published in Oct. 18 in the scientific journal Cell, researchers found that mosquitoes are drawn to certain body odors, which is why some people get bit more than others.

Mosquitoes are enticed by people with high levels of carboxylic acids. Every person has unique levels of chemical compounds that create their individual scent. Those who produce high levels of carboxylic acids on their skin are the ones who attract mosquitoes.

“If you have high levels of this stuff on your skin, you’re going to be the one at the picnic getting all the bites,” said Leslie Vosshall, a neurobiologist at Rockefeller University in New York, per Scientific American.

Researchers also found that changes in grooming habits or diet did not impact an individual’s attractiveness to mosquitoes, meaning that the levels of these acids — and therefore attractiveness to mosquitoes — remained steady over time.

Scientists have theorized about why mosquitoes prefer certain individuals for years. Many believed odor played a role, but until this experiment, no one knew which smell was most popular among mosquitoes.

What happened in the study?

Researchers gathered 64 participants and asked them to wear nylon stocking on their arms for six hours. During this time, each individual’s scent profile was absorbed into the nylon.

“Those nylons would not have a smell to me or, I think, to anyone really,” said Maria Elena De Obaldia, lead author of this new study. However, the smell was certainly strong enough for the mosquitoes.

The stockings were put head to head in closed containers with dozens of mosquitoes to see which scent was most popular.

“They would basically swarm to the most attractive subjects,” De Obaldia said, according to The Associated Press. “It became very obvious right away.”

The experiment went on for months, and it was clear that some participants were far more attractive to mosquitoes than others. One subject received an attractiveness score “over 100 times greater” than the least favorable subjects.

Once enough evidence was gathered, researchers took a closer look at each subject’s scent profile and found a pattern — those with high levels of carboxylic acids were the most attractive to mosquitoes.

What does this mean for mosquito repellent?

View Comments

DEET is the active ingredient used in many insect repellents. The chemical compound deters mosquitoes once they land. Mosquitoes can taste with their feet, so when they land and get a taste of DEET, they are driven away.

“Mosquitoes are repelled by its smell and by its taste,” Vosshall previously told NPR.

Although DEET was developed in the 1940s, it is still considered the most effective insect repellent today, with one major downside — it has to be reapplied often.

Researchers are hopeful that the new research will lead to a more state-of-the-art insect repellent that will protect even the biggest mosquito magnets in the future.

Join the Conversation
Looking for comments?
Find comments in their new home! Click the buttons at the top or within the article to view them — or use the button below for quick access.