Mosquitoes are Attracted to Men More Than Women

June 25, 2010 at 5:00 am 1 comment

Female mosquitoes bite mammals for their blood. They don’t do it for food, they need proteins in the blood to form eggs that will eventually make baby mosquitoes.

When it comes to people, they don’t necessarily prefer men to women, but it’s generally easier for mosquitoes to find men than women.

Mosquitoes detect mammals by picking up two chemicals: CO2 and 1-Octen-3-ol. CO2 is obviously in our breath when we exhale. 1-Octen-3-ol is a type of alcohol and it’s naturally in our breath and our sweat. Mosquitoes can detect these chemicals up to 36 meters (118 feet) away.

The more air you exhale and the more sweat you generate, the easier it is for mosquitoes to find you. Typically, men are: larger than women, have higher body temperatures, sweat more and exhale more CO2.

Larger women are also at a higher risk of mosquito bites than smaller women. In fact, a study found that pregnant women are twice as likely to attract mosquitoes than non-pregnant women.

The most effective way to repel mosquitoes is with a product that contains DEET. There are some natural alternatives to DEET: lemon eucalyptus and lemon grass are popular and reasonably effective, although there are other alternatives too. Unfortunately, none of them are as effective as DEET on the skin. DEET provides 100% protection for up to two hours, the natural alternatives need to be reapplied every 30-60 minutes.

Nepetalacton, the active ingredient in Catnip, is nearly 10 times more effective than DEET at repelling mosquitoes. However, it is not effective when applied to skin.

When a mosquito bites you, or when your skin is punctured in general, there is a complex reaction in your body that tries to stop the bleeding. Mosquitoes inject their saliva which contains a number of compounds, one of which is designed to prevent this reaction from happening. That prevents the blood from clotting and allows them to easily extract it. These compounds are the reason mosquito bites are itchy.

Researchers are studying the anti-clotting compounds in mosquito saliva since they could be effective in treating life threatening blood clots and heart-related diseases that affect humans.

Broken Secrets | By: Chad Upton

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Sources: Annals of Internal Medicine, Wikipedia (Mosquito, DEET, 1-Octen-3-ol), NYT

Entry filed under: Around The House.

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Elbyron  |  June 25, 2010 at 4:29 pm

    The compound in catnip oil actually called Nepetalactone (with an e on the end). Back in 2001 researchers discovered its effectiveness by applying it to the inside of a tube and noticing that most mosquitos stayed away from that side of the tube. Because it’s a naturally occuring oil, tons of natural remedy companies started marketing repellants made from catnip oil extracts. Of course, most of them never bothered to test the effectiveness on humans. But at least someone did. Kooky Kat Catnip Company sells catnip oil, and conducted their own research in 2003. They found that human skin evaporates it too quickly (useless after 20 minutes), requiring frequent re-application to have any effectiveness. Combining it with other oils didn’t help. Another problem they discovered is that nepetalactone attracts honeybees and possibly fire ants. And their test subjects found the smell of 4% catnip oil to be overpowering. Perhaps somebody will one day someone will develop a formulation that will keep it from evaporating and reduce the odor. But I doubt much can be done about the bee & ant problem.

    Another interesting thing I found when reading studies on nepetalactone was that there is another chemical called SS220 that does a good job of repelling mosquitoes. There’s lots of studies on this one, most of which show that it is at least as effective as DEET on the most common types of mosquitoes, and can have a longer period of effectiveness than DEET on certain specific kinds of mostquitoes.


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