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How Do Mosquitoes Find Their Prey?

There are lots of ways that humans attempt to evade mosquitoes. We use sprays and repellents. We use smelly candles and smoke. Sometimes we just don’t go outside at all. In areas prone to mosquito-borne illnesses, people use mosquito nets doused in repellent. But with all these ways of defending against mosquitoes, we often overlook an essential piece of the solution. We need to know how mosquitoes are finding us in the first place. Without knowing how mosquitoes find their prey, we can’t build a plan to avoid them.

How to Avoid Mosquito Bites

An effective way to avoid mosquito bites is the holy grail of outdoor barbecue pest control. However, as much as we hate their itchy bites, for some people, finding the answer is a matter of life and death. In fact, mosquitoes are the deadliest animals on earth.

Each year, mosquito-borne illnesses infect millions of people, and hundreds of thousands die. That’s more deaths than any other single animal. Malaria alone is the fifth most common cause of death in low-income countries. This makes the search for effective mosquito avoidance techniques a life and death struggle for millions of people around the globe.

To develop effective mosquito avoidance techniques, we need to know two crucial things: how mosquitoes breed and how mosquitoes find their prey. Without answering those two questions, it is nearly impossible to develop realistic solutions to the hazards of mosquitoes.

Mosquitoes Find Their Prey With Smell

Just like many other insects, mosquitoes are highly attracted to the scent of carbon dioxide and use this to seek out their victims. While mosquitoes don’t necessarily smell the way humans and other mammals do, the process is similar. Tiny particles of CO2 waft through the air. As a mosquito encounters these microscopic particles, they interact with special neurons that have a receptor that can detect carbon dioxide. Even in the absence of carbon dioxide, research indicates that these receptors can detect body odor as well.

As humans, we can detect some especially powerful smells from quite a distance. Consider the smell of wood-burning fires from a fireplace thousands of feet away. Of course, our sense of smell for body odor is mercifully much weaker. Even if you’ve just worked out or haven’t showered in a few days, other humans have to get pretty close to smell you. But mosquitoes can actually detect our scent from just under 165 feet away. And when we exhale, we create a plume is just as easy for these disease-carrying pests to follow as that fireplace we smell in the distance.

Unfortunately, humans—along with almost all other animals—exhale carbon dioxide as a regular part of our respiration. We would have to stop breathing altogether to thwart this mosquito tactic. That wouldn’t be a smart idea.

Interestingly, there is some research that suggests certain smells can affect a mosquito’s ability to sense (or smell) the odors emitted by humans. One such chemical that is safe for humans and not too unpleasant to be around is ethyl pyruvate. Ethyl pyruvate is an FDA approved flavoring agent used in commercial food production. It has a slightly fruity smell and has been shown in laboratory tests to block the receptors mosquitoes use to detect body odor.

Mosquitoes Find Their Prey With Sight

Once a mosquito has caught on to our scent, it will then use its vision to aid in spotting us. The female mosquito may catch a glimpse of us from a distance and land somewhere before deciding to fly over and start sucking our blood.

Luckily, you can make it a bit more difficult for mosquitoes to see you by avoiding dark clothing—which has been revealed in numerous studies to be a considerable attractant to mosquitoes. It is not precisely the color of the clothing that mosquitoes find attractive. Instead, dark clothing makes it easier for a mosquito to see you. Mosquitoes have a relatively weak sense of sight, so their primary tool for visually identifying a target is to look for a large, dark silhouette. Wearing light-colored clothes makes it harder for mosquitoes to make out your profile.

Motion is also a sign to a mosquito that you are an attractive target. Since mosquitoes can barely make out more than a silhouette, they need an effective way to differentiate animals and humans from other large objects like trees and bushes. The main difference a mosquito looks for is motion. People and animals move a lot and do it frequently. Trees tend to move around a lot less. So while you may be tempted to swat at every approaching mosquito, a little serene stoicism might be a better bet. Of course, staying entirely still is not always practical, so it’s a good thing there are other ways to get around mosquito senses.

Mosquitoes Find Their Prey With Heat

Once a mosquito has followed our scent and spotted us, she will finally use her thermal sensors to precisely locate where we are. The heat we naturally produce — from breathing, movement, and our internal body — are the last piece of the puzzle to allow the mosquito to zone in and take her blood meal.

Personal Mosquito Defense

Repellent and appropriate clothing are the two most effective techniques to keep mosquitoes off your body.

Apply repellents to your clothing following the directions on the container. Today, most mosquito repellents contain either DEET or Pyrethrin. Both are effective mosquito repellents. Some other substances also have limited mosquito-repellent properties. However, mosquito repellents with neither DEET nor Pyrethrin tend to be less effective.

Clothing can be an excellent barrier against mosquitoes. However, not all clothing is equally protective. Mosquitoes can bite through thin cloth if it close to the skin. So yoga pants and tight t-shirts aren’t much protection. The best clothing is long-sleeved, baggy clothes that don’t rest directly on the skin. That way, even if a mosquito can penetrate the material, it can’t reach your skin. The color of your clothing is also significant. Light colored clothes make it harder for a mosquito to see your silhouette.

Keeping mosquitoes off your body is great, but what if you want to be able to enjoy your yard or deck without any mosquitoes? If you’re sick of being a snack for mosquitoes this summer, it’s time to contact Mr. Mister to create a mosquito-free zone in your yard.

With our ClearZone mosquito misting service, a technician visits your home approximately every three weeks. The technician applies a fine mist of mosquito repellent to the underside of the vegetation around your property. The solution is safe for people and pets, but deadly to mosquitoes. It will kill existing mosquitoes and prevent the hatching of new mosquitoes.

With our automatic mosquito misting systems, the whole process is automated. A Mr. Mister technician will come to your home to install a system around your property similar to a sprinkler system. The automated misting system releases a fine mist of mosquito repellent on a predetermined schedule. The mist kills mosquitoes and prevents new ones from hatching.

Call Mr. Mister today and save yourself and your family from mosquitoes this summer.


“Mosquito-Borne Diseases.” World Health Organization, World Health Organization, 17 Oct. 2016, www.who.int/neglected_diseases/vector_ecology/mosquito-borne-diseases/en/.

“The Top 10 Causes of Death.” World Health Organization, World Health Organization, www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/the-top-10-causes-of-death.

“How Mosquitoes Detect People.” National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 4 Apr. 2016, www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/how-mosquitoes-detect-people.


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