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What Attracts Mosquitos to Some People and Not Others

by Zach Rogers

Is the old wives tale true? Are some people just “sweeter” or naturally more attractive to the flying bloodsuckers than others? What exactly makes people a target for a mosquito bite, and why are others seemingly immune to the pests?


Why Mosquitos Bite Some People But Not Others

1. Slow Movement

Researchers have determined that it is not a smell or taste that drives a mosquito to bite its victim, but rather behavioral patterns or other signs that prey may be less “defensive.”

In fact, a slower, larger animal that has a low activity level will always be more attractive to a mosquito than a lively small one that is bouncing all over the place. Effort and survival play the biggest role in determining potential targets. If a mosquito thinks it can sneak a couple of drops of blood from you, safely, and with a decreased chance of being swatted, it’s going to go for it.

Related Article: 37 Superfoods to Start Eating Today

2. Drinking Beer

Interestingly enough, ingesting alcohol (beer, mostly) can make you a more attractive target for a mosquito bite. This could be because the alcohol slightly raises your body temperature and reduces your reaction time, but it is probably mostly due to the increased apathy the target may exude when under the influence. According to one research study, mosquitos landed on study participants much more frequently after they began drinking beer:

“Thirteen volunteers (12 men from 20 to 58 years old and a 24-year-old woman) were chosen as test hosts and a 30-year-old man was established as a control. We measured ethanol content in sweat, sweat production, and skin temperature before and after ingestion of 350 ml of beer (ethanol concentration 5.5%) by volunteers and compared them with a control subject. Our study demonstrated that percent mosquito landing on volunteers significantly increased after beer ingestion compared with before ingestion, showing clearly that drinking alcohol stimulates mosquito attraction.”

Related Article: 6 Reasons Beer is Good For You

Effects of a Bug Bite

A mosquito bite is mostly harmless, most often causing a slight irritation at the source of the bite, however, the little insects can carry diseases from other animals, and therefore can be a threat to your summer fun. According to Dr. Glenn Braunstein, in rare cases a mosquito bite can cause serious health problems:

“While most mosquito bites are little more than a bother, the bugs are notorious carriers of disease and pathogens. Malaria, of course, is a global scourge linked to these blood-sucking pests. It’s not seen in California, where the main, mosquito-related bane is West Nile virus or West Nile fever. This skeeter-borne disease can cause abdominal pain, diarrhea, fever, headache, lack of appetite, muscle aches, nausea, rash, swollen throat, and lymph nodes, and vomiting. More serious forms of the disease can cause confusion, lack of consciousness or coma, muscle weakness, neck stiffness, and weakness in one arm and leg.”

Related Article: Natural Bug Repellents

The Takeaway

Of course, the easiest way to avoid the little buggers is to just stay indoors, but that would make for one boring summer, wouldn’t it?

Just stay active and aggressive when it comes to dealing with the mosquito, and you can prove yourself to be more trouble than the sweet nectar you contain is worth. You could also try some natural ways to keep the bugs away so you can enjoy the outdoors without any nasty bites.

Photo by PhotoBG

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Alisha May 13, 2014 - 6:36 pm

Blood type has absolutely nothing to do with getting mosquito bitten. My husband and I are both O+ and I get bitten immensely, my husband never gets bitten.

bill February 20, 2013 - 11:18 am

For the last 25 years I have been told to use Avon’s Skin So Soft solution before going outside to protect. No one person responded, offering that suggestion.

In terms of dealing with the bite, may I suggest using a drop of milk which is a natural way of dealing with the itch. The milk’s sugars do the trick. It also dramatically helps with poison ivy.

burkanuck April 23, 2013 - 2:55 pm

I personally can’t stomach the smell of the Skin So Soft mixture so I don’t use it on myself but my wife and I use it on our horses when the mosquitoes are really bad to give them some relief and it actually works very well.
There are recipes for it if you google it.

hans April 29, 2013 - 6:16 am

try Tabard, south african product.

Teresa January 24, 2013 - 6:14 pm

I have a theory that it’s blood type that affects how attractive one is to the little buggers. I’m O pos and rarely am bothered with bites, my husband is A negative and gets eaten alive and has a terrible response to bites. We’ve surveyed (unofficially) through the years and most of the time blood type seems to be predictive…

Erica January 31, 2013 - 1:36 pm

Must disagree. I am also O-pos and I get eaten alive. Myself, my husband, and my son (all O-pos) will all be outside. They stay bite-free (or nearly so) while I get bite after bite after bite.

Callie Fisher January 22, 2013 - 9:40 pm

I am 55, igrew up and live in hot Central Texas, and have never had much of a problem being bit by mosquitoes. As a boy, I was in the Scouts. When the other boys were getting ate up by them, I would here them buzzing but rarely felt them bite. The same holds true for me today, my wife, who is from Maine, can hardly go out in the summer because of them but I can stay out all evening and hardly notice them. I think Dr. Bieser is probably correct, I can hear them and occasionally know i have been bit but hardly notice it, so I must not be allergic to the histamine of the insect, whereas as my wife must be allergic. There must be more people who are allergic that those who are not. From some comments here it seems some people are able to build up a level of immunity where they were once sensitive, much like people who are given allergy shots of things they are allergic to, so their immune system will become resistant to cedar, oak, grass, ragweed, etc.

asd December 2, 2012 - 6:11 pm

My personal experience is that some get bitten and some don’t. That leads me to believe that something about one person is different than another. I read once it was CO2, but that seems too simplistic, meaning bigger, faster breathing people would tend to get bitten more, all other factors being equal.
Of the factors mentions by the posters, pH could be a reasonable one. But you know, most of us have the same pH, as the body regualtes that.
As for alcohol or movement, a friend and I were both in the same tent, drifting off to sleep, not moving, not having drank any alcohol, and he would regularlly get bitten and me not. He sometimes would swell up. the reaction to the bite and the likelyhood of getting bitten may be correlated. Something to think about. But am surprized that we don’t yet know as this is pretty important to a lot of people.

Karen Houston December 3, 2012 - 5:19 pm

Mosquitos HATE Marmite and my experience (both personal and from others) is that if you eat a small amount of Marmite every day they stay away. This was also checked by a UK university that found bugs hate the smell of Marmite. It really works!!!

Cheryl Davies May 12, 2013 - 5:57 pm

Brilliant. I love Marmite on toast and I tend to get eaten alive if anywhere tropical. As for cause I heard that people who eat a lot of dairy are very attractive to mozzies. Maybe they can detect the lactose in their blood.

Anna November 13, 2012 - 3:39 am

Hmm maybe.. But why is it that my 60 year old obese father hardly ever ever EVER gets bit yet I am constantly attacked when I am only 19 and healthy… I’m sure I move around more then he does lol. My friends and family have come to the theory that mosquito like me because I’m very fair skinned. I guess I’m like a light bulb to them, idk ha

shaz October 1, 2012 - 8:57 pm

antihistamine lotion and B1, can I get this over the counter?

Tasty September 19, 2012 - 2:50 am

Dr. B,
Do you know if the same thing is true for Chiggers? (That everyone gets bitten, but not everyone has an allergic reaction to the bite.) I have always been facsinated by the absolute preference that chiggers have for one person but not another, but have never come across an adequate explanation for why this would be so. I am lucky to be one so despised, but since they are almost microscopic, I don’t know that I would even know they were on me, especially since I understand they feed and drop off relatively quickly. All other pests, including other species of mites, find me irresistable, mores the pity.

Mark May 29, 2013 - 5:07 pm

I also lived in Negril for several years. We learned to hang a dead lobster in the yard, and you will not get any bugs. Kinda smells bad for the first couple days, but then it still does its magic.

Ricky James Costner September 17, 2012 - 4:15 pm

click on one of the page numbers (on top left of page encased in gray box)if you cannot read the article it should bring it up. it did for me anyway

thegooddeid September 4, 2012 - 5:37 am

I can’t even read this article, it isn’t showing up, but the thread is great!
It makes sense, They are attracted to carbon dioxide (our breath, like bed bugs are) and since our skin is so porous it must also come out of our skin?? aaand…extra potassium like eating bananas makes that worse? there seems there must be some connection to highter pottasium and amount of carbon dioxide projected?
I will tell you what has proven very valuable to me. My parents have sworn by taking B1 (maybe 200mg a day) during mesquito season fro the past 30 years. For years I thought it just a mind game but have found that if I take it I can watch a misquito bite me and it doesn’t swell up and itch like it normally would.
(this would mean that I am no longer reacting to the histamines)
15 years ago I met a military sergeant that said he instructs his troops to start taking B1 two weeks before they have drills in the deep woods of Minnesota lake country. I have traveled quite a bit and have never experienced miquitoes like up there.
Another thought I have. I just came back from a misquito infested trip, took the B1 the whole time (even up to 400 or 600 mg a day) and didn’t look like my fellow campers who were all bitten up and pockmarked. But when I got home I stopped taking the B1 and in two days I started feeling all the bites that I recieved but didn’t react to… I am now back to taking the B1 at least until the histamine runs its course in my body.
It is also good to note that you can’t take too many Bvitamins. If you have too much in your body it comes out in your urine. Many many people are deficient because they are stressed and it taxes their adrenals constantly (unlike animals who save up taxing their adrenals for running away from predators, we are often alwasy in fight or flight mode) and taxing our adrenals constanly ends up using up all of our B vitamins leaving nothing to nourish our bodies. (this is also true of vitamin C, with many centers that treat stage 4 cancer natually with success, the first two supplements given in high doses and/or in high food amounts is vitamin c and b complex vitamins)
anyone experiencing sickness, stresss or injuries or allergies (like to misquito bite histaminess) needs more of these things.
it is amazing how quickly these leave the body so it really is important to get them on a regular basis, from food is best or a whole food supplement (if you don’t already know this,most any supplement you find at wal-mart or a drug store is not even a derivative of food -it is most often synthetic-or it is so processed your body may respond to it for a short period of time but eventually may take it as a toxin and it won’t end up helping you it very well may end up adding to your ailments so don’t even bother with most brands. Do your research on the supplements before you take them)

thegooddeid September 4, 2012 - 6:07 am

I was also able to read the looks as though it was just an article to make a little blurb/article…misquitos probably are more likely to bite somoene who drank a beer…smaller or not? it is most likely not a factor unless you are just counting odds…bigger objects have more surface space and there are more misquitos in 6 feet 300 punds of a person than in 4 feet, 100 pounds, so it may just be like saying a miquito biting a larger person is like the likelyhood of ‘hitting the broad side a barn’ when shooting at it. Though it very well could be that larger people tend to be less healthy (though not always the case) so they will emit different sweat scents than someone who is leaner with good health with a healthy pH.
I believe that white will help repel misquitos and I will also use more lemon and eucalyptus though I am told that citrus oils can cause your skin to burn more rapidly in the sun I am not sure if lemon oils is an exception.
I don’t believe in putting anything on my skin that I wouldn’t eat. Our skin absorbs way to easily (that is why the smoking patch and birth control patches work) so I won’t use ‘common’ sunscreens or bugsprays. we have enough other toxins to combat, I want my body to have the stamina to help change my pH back to normal when I drink a cup of coffee… my toxin of choice. be well!

ParkerBradenton September 15, 2012 - 1:10 am

I’ve been living in Florida for the past 25 years, and I’ve always been eaten alive every day, every night, anytime a mosquito can get to me, they bite. I have scars all over my arms and legs, neck, feet, and hands. For me, the itch remains for weeks at a time. I’ve tried everything, from taking garlic pills, to wearing 100% deet. Pyrethrins, lemon grass, nothing works. Tried B1, Arginine, and even tomato juice. When I was a kid, we lived in Texas, and everybody there told us to try bathing in Pine Sol. Seemed plausible, cause if you leave your Pine Sol bathwater in the tub after taking a bath, there will be hundreds of the little buggers dead in the water. However, try as I might, bathing in Pine Sol doesn’t work on my skin. As for the blood thinning theory, it’s bonkers. Doesn’t work. And as for becoming immune to them, one would think 25 years would be enough time for immunity to kink in. One guy said he was immune to them within one week after arriving in Jamaica. So, bonkers again. Here in Fla, we have another kind of pest some call no-see-ems. These are the worst of all. When they bite, the intensity of the itch is about 300% stronger than a mosquito bite. And even worse, the sting lasts a lot longer: usually for as long as 6 weeks! As I write this, I am covered in mosquito bites. Its so frustrating, sometimes I think maybe I should just be buried in cement. Maybe they would leave me alone then.

lisa johnson September 23, 2012 - 8:43 am

I just wanted to tell you that i just read your response and you have described me perfectly. i get eat up and it lasts forever. always has. however, i went to my doctor one day for something unrelated and she asked me what all the marks were i told her. while there is nothing you can do to prevent them, she wrote me a prescription for hydrocortisone cream that is stronger than the over the counter brand. it is my new wonderdrug. the hydrocortizone that is over the counter never worked on me but this stuff, when i get a bite i rub some on and within minutes i am no longer itching. you should check it out. it was hydrocortizone 1.5%

maureen quirke May 26, 2013 - 3:47 pm

cut a lime in half put cloves in it

Shelagh Delves-Broughton September 1, 2012 - 10:32 pm

Dr. Mary Ann Bieser is correct. I once lived in Negril Jamaica and travelled in and out of it every 2 months or so. Upon my return I would be eaten alive at nightie but after a week or so I would not notice any at all. Sure, no doubt I was still attracting them but I developed a sort of immunity to them the rest of the time there…..Continue on for a few months and I never felt any but whenever i left for a week or two, I would have them again the first week back. Jamaicans however never seem to be bothered by them at all, which goes to the theory that after a while you build up some sort of immunity to them. When free from the bites for a week or two, that immunity seemed to wear off until I returned, would be bitten for a week or two, and then not notice them at all again.
Hope that helps someone!!!

Mrs Phyllis Ann Drew September 14, 2012 - 12:48 pm

We lived in Singapore for 2yrs 6months, first 3 months
we were eaten alive with mosquitos,
Then they left us alone, the reasons we were told is,
that mozzies love thick rich blood, when your blood thins out
as it does in hot climates, you are not so attractive to them,
and they move on the new richer blood. TRUE
Answer; Insect repellant for a couple of months.
Local folk dont get bit…_

justin Binder September 1, 2012 - 4:31 am

Not sure if this is truly relevant but, in India it is well known that mosquitos are attracted to dark colours. For example, two people standing outside one in dark clothes, the other in light/ white clothing, the one in dark clothing will get bitten.

It sounds stupid, but it does work. I have seen it on many occasions.

Lisa September 1, 2012 - 9:22 pm

Your white?

Becky August 30, 2012 - 7:44 pm

There is no rhyme or reason to getting bit by a I do remember, however, I didn’t get bit as often when I was young. Maybe mosquitos just like older people!

Suzanne August 30, 2012 - 5:21 pm

I was unable to read article as well, but live where there is alot of mosquitos. I have read they are attracted by your breath. I have a niece that gets ate up from them when nobody else is getting bite. With that being said she never shuts up so they can be some truth to that.

vicky August 28, 2012 - 10:12 am

I do not agree with the theory of the little pests being opportunists. They have always loves me -even as a child when I was active. They tend to bite me before anyone else even notices them-usually about 30 minutes prior to anyone else even being aware of them. Once bitten, I get huge inflamed bumps that itch for up to 2-3 weeks -much like poison oak-

I have two very active grandsons-that play in the same areas at the same time-one is just like me-he gets eaten up and reacts with severe bumps that last for weeks -the other one rarely gets bitten and if he does-you can hardly tell it by looking at him-

I still go with the ph factor!

Tammy August 31, 2012 - 10:07 pm

I agree with you. I used to be eaten alive when I was young and I was very, very active while adults or other children would be sitting in the same general area not moving and they wouldn’t be bothered. Or when running and playing with other children those children wouldn’t be bothered. My friends and I would go inside after playing and they would have no bites while I would be covered in welts. Just like you the bites swell to large inflamed bumps that itch for several weeks. Unless I missed reading it, I don’t believe the study mentioned that they used people that have reactions like we do to compare against each other as well as against people that do not react severely to the bite.

michael T August 26, 2012 - 9:45 am

all you have to do to see the article is to click on the “1” button next to the two button. It comes us first as just a link to two pages. Just click and you can read. And rocket science it is.

Iva Snyder August 25, 2012 - 2:36 am

I can’t argue the authenticity of the study article, having never read it, but I was told years ago that mosquitos are either attracted to or repelled by your body’s PH balance. If your skin has a high acidic OR alkaline base, they are more attracted than if your PH factor is balanced. I have noticed that I am not bitten as much in the morning after having just taken a shower as I am later in the day as my pores secrete more sweat and body oils.

Rob August 24, 2012 - 11:40 am

My wife and I have a running joke about mosquitoes and a MRI I had three years ago. As many of you may know, if you have a MRI during the course of the examination you may receive an intravenously administered gadolinium-based contrasting agent to enhance magnetic resonance imaging. Gadolinium is a rare earth material also used to shield nuclear reactors and as burnable poison utilized in marine nuclear propulsion. To make a long story short, I can sit outside with my wife and with friends and they are consumed by mosquitoes, while I haven’t been bitten in three years. Maybe mosquitoes are smarter than we think and have no desire to glow in the dark. Please forgive the post hoc ergo propter hoc argument, just a bit of levity in an otherwise, at times, dour world over populated by blood sucking agents, not all of which fall in the insect class.

F. Arlene Solonas August 22, 2012 - 2:01 pm

Mosquitoes don’t like the smell of citrus that comes out in your sweat; when I was young, our Mom gave us a half an orange each mornig, hence we did not get bitten very much. So try citrus fruit daily, see if that works. Hope it does. 🙂
Like anything else, this will not work for everyone, but I think it will work for most.

Ben August 23, 2012 - 1:21 pm

My wife loves citrus and eats raw lemons regularly, and she gets bit by mosquitoes like crazy… but I don’t get bitten. I don’t drink alcohol, but my wife used to drink, and we both used to smoke… nothing changed when we quit smoking three years ago. I also stopped eating much meat. I used to eat meat like, twice a day… now I might eat meat twice a week.
One thing about myself that is a little different, is that I have tough/thick skin.
I generally don’t sunburn and I’ve never had a blister from burns on my hands or from work, and I rarely get sick… I haven’t been ill in at least five years.
Mosquitoes just generally leave me alone, and I’m pretty sure that what I eat or drink isn’t the difference, but there are pesticides that you can eat to repel mosquitoes.

MangoMadness August 20, 2012 - 5:24 pm

I spent the first 7 years of my life in Africa and again 4 years of high school. While overseas, I would get bitten as often as anyone else in my family. I have been in areas where there are other people close by and areas where I am alone. The more distanced I am from other people or animals, the more I get swarmed. Mosquitos are opportunistic. I have heard they are attracted to darker colored clothing (blues) and my experiences in backpacking seem to support this. In any case, I noticed something interesting long ago. While I do get itchy bumps from mosquitos in Africa, I do not get bumps from their bites here in the USA, at least not here on the west coast. I have been in woods so thick with mosquitos that I am totally covered and yet do not get bumps. Poison oak, however…that is another story!

jane August 19, 2012 - 5:27 pm

I don’t think this study is accurate. I am the smallest, blithest one of my family, and yet I am the one who attracts the most mosquitoes, flies, even jelly fish.

Damon August 16, 2012 - 8:34 pm

I have to disagree with you. Psst. . . Just in case you have not noticed – not everything in life makes sense. But . . . Shhhhh. . . surly that is a secret.

I have not been bitten by a mosquito in about 15 years – even when I go somewhere and my friends are eaten up. They just don’t like me, which honestly is fine with me because I don’t like them either.

Cynthia August 15, 2012 - 6:53 pm

I agree that the mosquitoes do ignore some people. I am one of them. I do enjoy alcohol and have always had a deficiency in potassium. I do not take offense. In fact when the mosquitoes are biting everyone else I am quite thankful.

Evelyn August 16, 2012 - 6:19 pm

I know that mosquitoes don’t feel drawn to some people as much as to others, my husband and 2 grandsons get covered when they are in the same area outside as I am, I might have just one or two swarming around me. I think it has to do with blood temperature, as I am always hot and they are always cool.

Annie July 30, 2012 - 11:29 am

I have to wonder where the researchers came up with this nonsense notion. My husband and son, who are much more active than I am (hence hotter) are mosquito magnets. Keep looking for the answers.

Maré July 24, 2012 - 12:43 pm

Dont believe the alcohol story. I dont use alcohol and the mozzies loves me, whereas my husband does have the occasional drink and he never gets attacked by them.

The Brigadier July 16, 2012 - 6:47 pm

About twenty years ago, researchers found that mosquitoes like people who eat foods high in potassium. Those people leave a potassium trail every time they breathe that mosquitoes find irresistible. The researchers may be too young to have heard of that study. That’s how those mosquito traps work. Propane smells like potassium and mosquitoes that think they are going to have some rich blood to generate their eggs, find they are trapped and die. Isn’t science fun?!

DMCon July 20, 2012 - 6:42 pm

You are full of nothing. Mosquito’s love me and I can be sitting next to someone not at all bothered by mosquito’s while I have gotten many bits. Try another scenario Bub!

Dr. Mary Ann Bieser August 31, 2012 - 9:40 am

I am a doctor of Epidemiology for the city of San Diego. The following is true and I have taken many years studying biting bugs, airborne diseases and bites from animals and insects that can make humans ill.
EVERYONE gets bitten by mosquitoes. I don’t care who you are, what you eat, what you wear or what state or country you live in. The difference in people is that some of us are not allergic to the histamine that mosquitoes have in their system. If you are not allergic you do not even know when you are bitten, you will not itch or swell up.
If you are allergic to the mosquito’s bite, you will get huge bumps, itch and swell up with large lumps that if scratched can even get infected. Don’t forget, we all get bitten. The same truth is for fleas from cats. (Dog fleas do not bite.) INSECT REPELLENT DOES HELP. If you don’t like sticky insect repellent you can try a combination of lemon oil and eucalypti oil. Biting bugs don’t like it.

teresa howard September 1, 2012 - 10:30 pm

HANK You for letting me know about the oils for the mosquitoe bites Dr. Bieser

David Adamovich January 17, 2013 - 12:47 am

dog fleas ,cat fleas do bite people

Cat March 8, 2013 - 4:24 pm

I think Mary’s response is very accurate. I’ve believed for a,long time that ALL people will get bitten mosquitos, etc, at some point but that some people have reactions to those bites but others don’t. People who don’t have reactions probably don’t even realize when they’ve been bittten and just assume that they haven’t been. I’ve always been sensitive tp insect bites (and I think mainly mosquito bites) and I always thought, for some reason, that as I got older I I would devolop more immunity to them and that the reactions wouldn’t be bad. Unfortunately though, the reverse seems to be true – as I’ve gotten older I seem to get more severe reactions! I used to just get itchy bumps where I’d been bitten and they’d last for a few days or whatever but getter if I left them alone and didn’t scratch a lot. Last year though I had what I think was a mosquito bite on the back of my calf which I didn’t worry about at first but within about 24 hours that foot looked a bit swollen, then the folllowing day my leg, from the knee down, started kooking red and swollen and over the next 4 days got so bad it was much more swollen, inflamed and hot. I could barely walk and my foot swelled so much I could only wear flip-flops! I was scared I was getting blood poisoning. I didn;’t see a doctor though until about 4 days after it started because I’d started a new job and didn’t want to lose it if I took time off to see a doctor. When I did see the doctor he was shocked at how severe the inflammation and swelling of my leg was and he said I had Cellulitis and that it had gone down to the deep tissue. I was on antibiotics for weeks which helped settle it to some extent but my leg and foot were still swollen quite a bit and pinkish, although the main infection seemed cleared in the main. It didn’t clear up entirely though so I was then referred for tests to the hospital and my leg was scanned to make sure I did not have a blood clot (or clots) in the leg. Luckily I xidn’t have any clots. I’m not taking medication for it now but my ;leg still isn’t back to normal though, 8 months later, and is still a bit swollen, pinkish and I can’t move that foot properly, i.e. I can’t point it down, for example, like I would normally be able to do. So, perhaps not surprisingly, I’m almost scared to go outside in the summer now wearing shorts or whatever, in case I get bitten that badly again!!

Richard August 10, 2012 - 4:31 pm

The reason mosquito traps work is because they are attracted to carbon dioxide. Which is produced by the propane being burned. Not because it smells like potassium.

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