Feature Archive

Are You a Mosquito Magnet?

Experts try to crack the code behind why mosquitoes like some humans more than others.

By Elizabeth Heubeck, M.A.
WebMD Feature

Reviewed By Brunilda Nazario, MD

You're flipping burgers for the neighborhood barbecue, and the mosquitoes have already begun their feast -- on you. As you swat madly at the pests, you notice other folks seem completely unfazed. Could it be that mosquitoes prefer dining on some humans over others? This may clear up the mystery.

It's true. Mosquitoes do exhibit blood-sucking preferences, say the experts. "One in 10 people are highly attractive to mosquitoes," reports Jerry Butler, PhD, professor emeritus at the University of Florida. Incidentally, it's not dinner they're sucking out of you. Female mosquitoes -- males do not bite people -- need human blood to develop fertile eggs. And apparently, not just anyone's.

Who Mosquitoes Like Best

While researchers have yet to pinpoint what mosquitoes consider an ideal hunk of human flesh, the hunt is on. "There's a tremendous amount of research being conducted on what compounds and odors people exude that might be attractive to mosquitoes," says Joe Conlon, PhD, technical advisor to the American Mosquito Control Association. With 400 different compounds to examine, it's an extremely laborious process. "Researchers are just beginning to scratch the surface," he says.

Scientists do know that genetics account for a whopping 85% of our susceptibility to mosquito bites. They've also identified certain elements of our body chemistry that, when found in excess on the skin's surface, make mosquitoes swarm closer.