This story was first published on December 29, 2022. It was republished on December 26, 2023.
There’s always that one unlucky person at a BBQ who goes home covered in mozzie bites while the rest of the party is practically immune.
For decades scientists have been trying to work out what exactly makes some people irresistible to mosquitoes over others.
Some research said people with Blood Types O and B are more attractive to mozzies than people with Blood Type A.
More recently a study has found people who are exceptionally attractive to mosquitoes secrete more carboxylic acids from their skin.
What are carboxylic acids?
When you sweat you release carboxylic acids, a molecule that is part of the skin’s moisturising layer, that has a sour odour mosquitoes can smell.
The study from Rockefeller University in New York got 64 people to wear nylon stockings around their arms for six hours to collect their unique skin odour.
One at a time the scientists placed two of the stockings in two separate traps side by side and released a swarm of female mosquitos (fun fact: only female mozzies bite) to see which odour they went for.
The winning group - that secreted more carboxylic acids - was about 100 times more attractive than the group that didn't have any specific substances in common on their skin, suggesting that they lack mosquito attractants.
The scientists repeated this experiment over three years with the same subjects and found the mosquitoes flocked to the same people regardless of fluctuations in their diet or the skin products they used.
The researchers say this means there’s good reason to believe genetics play a factor in a person’s skin acid composition - which would unfortunately mean once a mosquito magnet, always a mosquito magnet.
The scientists also tried genetically modifying the insects to reduce their sensitivity to the acids. But the mosquitos could still pick out the nylons from mosquito magnets.
How can you make yourself less of a mozzie magnet?
Entomologist Dr Mariana Musicante says there are things you can do to try and make yourself “more invisible” to mosquitos even if you are a mosquito magnet.
She says the biggest factor is smells.
“Stinky feet are something mosquitoes can smell from a long distance and they get attracted to it. They are kind of like a clue for mosquitoes to get to you. So if you want to be invisible you need to be odour free.”
Wearing floral perfume can also be a bad idea because mosquitoes are attracted to the smell of flowers.
“Flower nectar is a sugary substance that gives mosquitoes energy, so a sweet floral perfume can mimic the smell of flowers and draw them to you.”
Musicante says wearing bright floral or colourful clothing can also attract mosquitoes to you.
“So that's why usually when you go to places where you know there are a lot of mosquitoes, you should wear long sleeves that are pale colours and wash your feet and your footwear so you are as odourless as possible.”
Top image: Aedes aegypti biting human skin - stock photo. Supplied: Getty Images
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