My wife and I like to sit out on our patio in the evening with our dog Clementine. This is a ritual we’ve done for years. We’ve noticed something curious about sitting outdoors. My wife gets bitten by mosquitoes far more than I do. We spent a month at an Airbnb in a Costa Rican jungle a few miles from the Pacific coast back in 2018. My wife had to fight off mosquitoes and no-see-ums while I hardly noticed them.
There are more than 3,500 different types of mosquitoes. Only the females from certain types bite people. An article in Medical News Today looked at why mosquitoes target some individuals but not others. Professor Jagdish Khubchandani, who teaches public health at New Mexico State University, told Medical News Today:
“The reasons for mosquitoes being attracted to humans have been discussed in a few studies. These studies have discussed body odor, body color, skin temperature and texture, microbes living on the skin, pregnancy status, carbon dioxide exhaled by humans, alcohol, and diet type. Overall, the studies suggest that pregnant women, people with high body temperature and sweat, diverse skin microbe presence, and those with darker skin could be more susceptible.”
Wow! That does not describe my wife in the least. Yet, she’s a mosquito magnet. Health News Today admits the answer is not straightforward. People produce thousands of different chemicals and skin microbes vary in innumerable ways. Teasing out which ones attract mosquitoes is far from easy.
We know that female mosquitoes are attracted to CO2 from breath. Experts theorize that people with a higher body mass index are more attractive to mosquitoes. That also does not describe my 112 pound wife. Lactic acid on skin is also thought to attract mosquitoes.
One study used glass beads that were rolled on mens’ skin to test for attractive bacteria. The more bacteria, the more attractive the men were to mosquitoes but microbial diversity had the opposite effect. It is thought that certain volatile organic compounds on skin attract mosquitoes while others drive them away.
People with blood type O are more likely to attract mosquitoes than blood type A. My wife and I are both O so that does not explain why she’s bitten a multiple of times for every bite I receive. Finally, Dr. Khubchandani agrees that perhaps the difference isn’t who gets bitten, maybe it’s who is most sensitive to mosquito bites. My wife is far more sensitive to a range of allergens than I am. In other words, I may have been bitten and not realized it.
The article advises to plant strong smelling plants around their patio, avoid wearing dark colors during the hours when mosquitoes are most active and avoid drinking beer. My wife also does not drink while I do so that’s yet another paradox.