Scientists Have Finally Discovered The Real Reason Mosquitos Bite Humans

Mosquitoes are the worst. These little pests are the bane of many people’s lives during the summer months. They fly around, buzzing their stupid wings and sucking blood like the fake vampires, but is there a logic behind these bugs? After years of studying these minute jerks and their annoying behaviors, scientists believe they’ve discovered why mosquitoes target one person over another. We’re itching to find out the truth!

There are 3,500 species of mosquitoes on Earth, which is 3,500 too many. In the U.S. alone, there are 176 unique varieties, according to the American Mosquito Control Association. These pesky swarms are more consequential than most of us realize.

Beyond being a nuisance, mosquitos also carry diseases like malaria, which killed 438,000 people in 2015. This is spread by Anopheles mosquitos, or Marsh mosquitos. This genus was named in 1818 by J.W. Meigen. 

Another type, Aedes aegypti (the yellow fever mosquito), carries even more illnesses: dengue fever, the Zika virus, yellow fever, chikungunya, and many other nasty infections. They’re gross.

Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images

“They are very mobile and can move over distances [of] a few miles. [That allows] them to have some trajectory in finding their blood meals and spreading disease in the process,” Dr. Amesh Adalja, infectious disease specialist said.

WTOV

Because mosquitos cause so much trouble for humans, scientists have a vested interest in them, specifically in learning more what motivates them to attack certain people. These bloodsucking creatures definitely have a preference when it comes to their victims.

Paul Fetters for the Smithsonian

“Some [mosquitos] prefer to bite at night when we’re sleeping. Others, those that bite during the day or early evening, have chemicals in their saliva that allow them to bite without us noticing it right away,” CDC insect expert Janet McAllister explained.

One of the factors that influences mosquito bites is the amount of carbon dioxide in the air. Mosquitos sense these levels, which are influenced by how many people are in the area, since we exhale this chemical compound. There are also personal qualities that they respond to.

Rennett Stowe / Flickr

Your clothing could also pique a mosquito’s appetite. The insects are attracted to dark clothing, so goths, please be careful. If you have a penchant for navy or black clothes, try a new color scheme.

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Human body odor may also attract mosquitos. Our sweat contains ammonia, lactic acid, and other substances that create a unique smell. The yellow fever mosquito is particularly smell-selective when choosing its victim.

Comedy Central

Researchers noted that not all body odors are created equal. The types of microbes a person exudes in their sweat could naturally repel the insects. Some people have all the luck, we suppose. But how did they prove it?

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Scientists tested this theory by studying identical twins. When mosquitos smelled the odors exuded by the twins, they either liked or disliked the smell of both, demonstrating that there may be a genetic component to the smell preference too.

Mosquitos also apparently remember their victims, especially by the amount of heat they radiate. It’s hard to say how such tiny bugs could even have the space in their brains to recall this kind of information.

There’s also evidence that mosquitos prefer beer drinkers, compared to teetotalers, according to a 2002 study from the American Mosquito Control Association. Mosquitos ruin everything, don’t they? The insects have other targets, too.

Another mosquito-targeted population is pregnant people. While it’s still growing inside of them, it increases their body heat levels and carbon dioxide output. Growing a person is a lot of work.

Mario Tama/Getty Images

Most recently, a research team discovered that the weather may greatly impact which human populations mosquitos target. This has to do with their reproduction cycle and where they’re mating.

Quartz

These bugs often target populations in areas with dry seasons and high-density populations of people. Some of the most impacted areas are located across Africa, and experts predict over the next 30 years that this trend will only increase in severity.

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“We don’t know if this will look like more willingness to bite humans, or the evolution of strong preference for humans to the exclusion of other animals,” said Noah Rose, a mosquito expert.

Though 30 years seems like eons away, time always moves faster than anticipated. Noah is already advocating for a plan to be put in place to alleviate future mosquito problems.

“If we make sure that people in these rapidly growing cities have access to safe, clean water,” Noah said. “And we try to make sure there isn’t lots of open standing water in containers, then we can disrupt the ecology of this disease-spreading mosquito.” 

If you’re interested in avoiding these carnivorous insects, try to avoid their favorite times of day. They’re the most active in the morning and evening, and spend their time sleeping in the afternoons. Or just lather yourself up with bugspray. Your choice.

Not all mosquitoes are created equal. Out of the 3,500 different species of mosquitoes, less than 100 go after humans. The rest are on a strict nonhuman diet. It does seem what they lack in numbers, they make up for in tenacity.

The harm of a mosquito bite is normally benign. For most of us, the itch can be solved by covering our selves in anti-itch lotion and spending the summer indoors. However, there is a chance that the tiny bites can be deadly.

Yahoo News

Incredibly, the mosquito is the deadliest animal in the world. Recent statistics upgrade the previously annoying pest to a murderous status. About 725,000 people die from mosquito-related illness every year.

Sharks, which we’ve been conditioned to fear, are downright adorable compared to mosquitoes, killing less than ten people per year. Some species of mosquitoes spread the lethal illness malaria, which kills over 600,000 people annually.

National Geographic

Other illnesses spread by mosquitoes include dengue fever and yellow fever. One of the scariest things about the bugs is the difficulty in curbing the population. During peak season, they outnumber humans on Earth. Malaria nets and bug spray can only do so much.

NPR

So far, these bug-eyed biters have gone from annoying to deadly. It seems like the only good deed committed via mosquito was bringing back dinosaurs by being preserved in amber for thousands of years, Jurassic Park style. And even that was a double-edged sword.

Jurassic Park

But on the mosquito manifesto, there are few things to do right behind annoying and murdering humans. In their own way, they are helping to maintain the suffering ecosystem on Earth. Chances are, you’ve heard about some of our environmental issues.

Engineers Journal

Currently our Earth is undergoing some ecological woes. One notable cause revolves around “saving the bees.” In order to understand the niche importance of mosquitoes, it helps to have a quick refresher on ecology 101.

See, habitat loss, beekeeping practices, and malnutrition are just some of the risk factors effecting our bee population today. And what happens if we lose the bees? A lot of really bad things. Namely the loss of crucial crops.

Bees are master pollinators, which allows many types of flowers and plants to flourish. You can thank bees for apples, almonds, avocados, pumpkins, and countless other things that rely on bee pollination to grow. Without bees, we would be out some of our favorite foods.

The thing is, while bees are crazy important, they aren’t the only ones pulling some serious ecological weight on the bottom of the food chain. Our foe, mosquitoes, help out quite a bit in the pollination process as well.

That’s right. Mosquitoes are active pollinators. They don’t just spend their short lives plotting the end of mankind. They are the spindly-legged sidekicks to the crucial work of the bee. The most important part of a mosquito’s diet isn’t even the blood of its enemies.

Plant sugar, or nectar, is the crucial life force behind mosquitoes. They’re always out on the town, or more accurately, the garden, searching for nectar from various flowers and plants. In turn, this makes them pretty effective pollinators.

Science News

This might be news, but mosquitoes have been pollinating for centuries. There is evidence of rapid evolution in mosquito populations corresponding with flowering plants. Using vision and smell, they can detect flowers to pollinate. But there is something even more mind blowing about this.

Warren Photography

Scientists have discovered that some of the smells that come from plants are the same smells that come from humans. Researchers believe mosquitoes might’ve mistaken humans for flowers because of the similar scents, which could explain the origin of mosquitoes sucking blood from humans.

Maybe they aren’t inherently evil. They might just be misunderstood, flower-loving creatures who got an accidental taste of blood and couldn’t shake the habit over the last couple hundred thousand years. And what’s more, in addition to being pals with the bees, they do other helpful things.

Mosquitoes help create biomass when they break down or are eaten and turned into waste. Their decomposing microbes become nutrients for plants. Alaska has about 96 millions pounds of mosquito biomass, helping vegetation grow. But don’t feel too guilty about your mosquito misgivings — they aren’t saints.

Mosquitoes aren’t well liked in the insect community, either. They exploit insects such as ants for their “honey dew,” which is plant sugar already processed by the ant. Mosquitoes sniff them out and aren’t exactly polite about acquiring the goods.

The mosquito inserts its mouth parts into that of an ant and lays it’s antennae on the ant’s head. This maneuver causes the ant to regurgitate its honey dew and gives the mosquito a free feast. They probably fly away without so much as a thank you.

A Bug’s Life

There is much more to mosquitoes than meets the eye. They have some fundamental flaws that make them no fun at parties, but like bees they play a vital role in our ecosystem. That’s why one family was so careful about how they handled their own “bee” problem…

At first, married couple Bob and Linda van der Herchen weren’t bothered by the curious sounds they occasionally heard coming from their attic. Believe it or not, the sounds went on for years.

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Now, upon hearing a bizarre noise coming from the vacant space just above your head, you’d think you’d be racing to get the house checked out. But Bob van der Herchen isn’t like most people.

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Considering Bob is in the removal business, he’s not skeeved out to get down and dirty with nature’s little pests. He just wasn’t motivated to get down and dirty with the one not paying rent in his attic. He usually works with bees, but Bob’s no exterminator.

Bob owns the Bob van der Herchen Bee Removal & Rescue company, which aims to humanely remove honey bees from people’s properties and relocate them to a safer space. It’s an important job since bees play a vital role in our ecosystem.

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In fact, Bob cares so deeply about respecting bees that he’s visited schools to share the story of his company and the importance of bees with eager children. Bob knows bees, and he knew there weren’t any queens or trusty drone bees infesting his attic.

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“I didn’t think much of it. I thought maybe it was rats,” the bee expert said when asked about why he never thought to go up into the attic and see for himself. Luckily, there was someone else who was a bit more curious.

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Bob and Linda’s son, Adam, was a real worrywart. While his parents leisurely ignored the rustling above their noggins, Adam himself couldn’t take it anymore; especially considering his bedroom was directly underneath the attic.

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Tired of letting his own imagination run away with him, Adam knew it was time to get to work on solving this problem. He went to investigate the repetitive commotion, which led him to the utility room. Dun, dun, dun!

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While in the utility room, Adam looked above him, having witnessed blurred movement through the old slats of the ceiling. He got a quick peek at the dreaded infiltrator and was shocked. He sure wasn’t expecting a guest of this caliber.

Miami Herald

Adam rushed to tell his mother what he saw in the attic, which led her to take the frightening matter to Facebook. Linda posted a status that exclaimed “Home alone? Maybe, maybe not!”

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When Bob finally decided to involve himself in this game of Clue, he witnessed the squatter as well, but this time on camera. Needless to say, the footage would’ve given John Carpenter a run for his money.

Mother Nature Network

The van der Herchen family eventually resorted to calling animal control, but by the time an officer arrived to their home, the creature had already ventured far away from the ceiling opening, making the officer’s attempts to retrieve the invader a failure.

Absolute History

Despite the failed capture mission, the Sarasota Animal Control officer saw enough to relay to the van der Herchens that their uninvited guest was, in fact, a giant, potentially dangerous snake. Gasp!

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The officer identified the slithering serpent as a diamondback rattlesnake, whose venom packs an often fatal punch. In the eloquent words of this animal control officer, “That’s a big old boy right there; that guy will kill you.” We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.

National Geographic

If animal control couldn’t snatch the deadly snake, then who could? The van der Herchens even contacted their fearless, daredevil nephew to put him up to the challenge, but his attempts led to defeat as well. That’s when the family had one last idea.

Absolute History

They contacted Mark Lampart, a friend of a friend, via Facebook. Mark is no stranger to fearsome predators, as he’s posed with some of the world’s most dangerous specimens on multiple occasions, making him the right guy for this job!

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He took on the mission with full force, dedicating several hours to finding the pesky viper. When he discovered a large piece of dry, shed skin lying around the attic, Mark concluded that the snake was living with the van der Herchens for quite some time.

New Ravel

After what felt like a never-ending battle of Mammalia versus Reptilia, Mark, the snake whisperer, nabbed the snake’s tail and yanked it from the ceiling’s insulation. It turns out that the animal control officer wrongfully identified the culprit.

New Ravel

It was just a Colombian red-tailed boa constrictor. While the reptile is still considered dangerous, it’s not venomous. Boas have sharp fangs, but it’s their bodies that pose a danger. They use their muscles to restrict oxygen intake and blood circulation of other animals.

WPTV

So how did this big boy get in the van der Herchen attic? Well, younger boas are semi-arboreal, meaning they can climb trees. “Animal control said it got on the roof from tree branches,” Linda disclosed to her Facebook friends.

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Thankfully, no one was wounded by the likely escaped exotic pet. If we have anything to say, it’s that the van der Herchens should demand that boa hand over years’ worth of rent! Snakes all over Florida are getting bolder.

ABC4 News

In the Sunshine State, they’ve made their homes where they shouldn’t, and none more so than the Burmese Python. They will eat anything from mice to adult deer, and as of a couple of decades ago, nobody in Florida even knew about them.

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As their name suggests, the reptiles are native to Asia’s tropics, but they were now running wild all over the Everglades. Scientists theorize that following the destruction of Hurricane Andrew, pythons escaped from a zoo and bred like wildfire.

Frank Mazzotti didn’t know quite where the snakes came from, but he was determined to stop them from spreading into densely populated areas, like Miami. The biologist swore to throw everything and the kitchen sink at them. But would that be enough?

NPR

Everglades locals tried all kinds of tricks to root out the serpents. They put snake-sniffing dogs out in the marshes and even set loose radio-equipped “Judas snakes” to hopefully reveal their home base. The pythons only continued to grow.

FL Keys News

Word got around that the reptiles took over an abandoned Nike missile site. While that in and of itself didn’t threaten anyone, Floridians feared that if left unchecked, the pythons would breed at an incredible rate.

The Bohemian Blog

Who knew — it could’ve only been a matter of time until the snakes expanded beyond the missile base and started showing up in places that were more…personal. The stakes were dire, but Frank learned of one group that could help.

Rex Features

Deep in the forests of southern India, the Irula people have mastered snake catching. They see it as an art and take the practice incredibly seriously, even after India has slapped strict regulations on snake trading.

Deccan Chronicle

In recent years, the Irulas have captured poisonous reptiles for the purpose of producing antivenoms. Clearly, there was nobody on Earth more qualified. But how could Floridians convince this tribe to help a community on the other side of the world?

Frank and his herpetologist pals managed to make contact with the Irulas, and to their surprise, the snake-catchers showed interest in helping them. Granted, the Floridians would have to shell out thousands of dollars and agree to some unusual methods.

Miami Herald

Hard as it was to believe, the Irulas didn’t use any state-of-the-art tools for finding and capturing snakes. Instead, their weapon of choice was something found in any garage: a tire iron.

Video Blocks

Contrary to what you might think, they didn’t intend these tire irons for a Simpsons-style Whacking Day. The Irula used them to clear a path through the brush and pick up snakes, but ultimately they tried to capture the reptiles alive when possible.

Simpsons World

So, Frank welcomed the best Irula hunters, Masi Sadaiyan and Vadivel Gopal, to the Everglades. While both men were in their 50s, they were at the top of their game. But the Floridians got nervous when the Irulas said they’d never before hunted snakes so large.

However, Masi and Vadivel smiled when they shared this fact. They were eager for the challenge, the chance to put their skills to the ultimate test. Granted, their brand of animal control was not without its risks.

From the start, the Irula’s tactics puzzled Frank and his friends. They insisted on marching blindly through the thickest part of the swamp. When a snake’s trail ended, Masi and Vadivel made everyone sit down, pray, and smoke a cigarette.

Frank’s hopes began to wane until one of the Irula’s pointed to a shimmer in the mud. Brandishing their trusty tire irons, Masi and Vadivel scooped up a fully-grown python! That was only the beginning.

Mother Nature Network

With a few more captures under their belts, the Irulas fearlessly plunged into an old missile shaft where herpetologists spotted a nest. The sharp-eyed hunters grasped a muscled python tail and spent hours wrestling it out of tree roots.

Miami Herald

In that one afternoon, the hunters pulled out four monstrous pythons from the overgrown missile shaft. They soon brought their total up to 14 over their first two weeks. While the Irulas couldn’t stay in the Everglades forever, they did the next best thing.

Masi and Vadivel shared their wisdom with the local wildlife management team, which never could’ve located these pythons with conventional techniques. The Irula knowledge could stem the invasion, so the Floridians wanted to give them something in return.

Besides paying the Irulas over $4,000 per python, the Floridians wanted to give them the real American experience. In between expeditions, they watched NFL games and ate hot dogs at Arbetter’s, their favorite greasy spoon.

Roadfood Forums

After a month, the Irulas returned to India feeling invigorated by the hunt of their lives. The Floridians knew they were quite fortunate to find experts to turn back the snake invasion, but of course, it wasn’t always possible to have heroes on hand.

Sometimes, everyday people have to use their wits to survive a deadly animal encounter. In the spring of 2017, a mother of four named Bianca Dickinson drove her youngest child, Molly, to the end of the long driveway cutting through her ranch in Victoria, Australia. There, she’d meet a snake.

Bianca Dickinson / Facebook

But first, to pass the time while waiting for the school bus to drop off her older kids, Bianca had two-year-old Molly pose for a few photographs. For 15 minutes, the duo played and snapped silly pictures — until the fun came to an abrupt halt.

Bianca Dickinson / Daily Mail

With the school bus in view down the road, Molly posed for one last photo beside a wire fence. She wore a huge grin and pointed behind herself, towards the grass blowing in the wind. It was the perfect photo… or was it?

Bianca Dickinson / Facebook

“I was looking through my camera lens and was looking at my daughter,” Bianca told ABC Australia. “I saw something move in the corner of my eye and actually thought it was bark coming off the tree.” But it wasn’t bark.

Doug Hyland / Purdue

What Bianca first assumed to be tree bark was actually an eastern brown snake, aka the second-most venomous snake in the entire world. And it was slithering right behind her little girl!

Bianca Dickinson / Facebook

Venom from the eastern brown snake can paralyze victims and make their blood so thin that it seeps through their pores. Without immediate treatment, a single bite from this critter can send you to an early grave — and it has enough venom to kill 20 adults.

Sky News

So it was no surprise Bianca’s insides twisted into a cold heap when she saw one of these snakes just inches away from her baby girl. “I think [the snake] was touching her boots,” Bianca said. “It was that close.” But what could she do?

Bianca Dickinson / Facebook

“All my instincts wanted to run and pick her up and scream and run away,” Bianca said. However, that move, she knew, could’ve had deadly repercussions. If she did that, there was a chance the snake would feel threatened — and strike.

The Sydney Morning Herald / YouTube

Complicating the situation, Bianca had to convey to her daughter that there was a big, deadly snake behind her and not to make any sudden movements or take any violent steps backward…

Bianca Dickinson / Facebook

So what did the mother do? She just froze. In doing so, she communicated non-verbally to Molly that she should do the same. “Luckily,” Bianca said, “she copied me.” And the snake?

Bianca Dickinson / Daily Mail

Much to Bianca’s relief, the eastern brown snake slithered away, leaving Molly unharmed. As it disappeared into the tall grass, the school bus dropped off her three older children. But Bianca’s panic hadn’t subsided yet…

Bianca Dickinson / Daily Mail

“I just started yelling at my other three kids to get in the car,” she said. “I got in the car and I was shaking.” And who could blame her? Her kids immediately noticed she wasn’t quite right.

Bianca Dickinson / Facebook

While on the drive back up the driveway, her 13-year-old daughter, Imogen (far left), asked, “What happened? Did you see a snake, mum?” Bianca nodded. “Yes,” she told the kids, and “it was at least two meters.” Her kids didn’t buy it.

Bianca Dickinson / Facebook

“Oh mum, it wasn’t that big!” Imogen said. But naturally, mother knew best. Back at home, she pulled out her camera and showed her kids the venomous reptile that’d come within inches of their little sister. And it shook them all.

Bianca Dickinson / Facebook

After seeing just how close Molly had come to the wrong end of a snake, Bianca’s older three kids didn’t want to go outside anymore. Worse, in showing the kids the photos, Bianca uncovered another nasty shock…

Bianca Dickinson / Daily Mail

She’d been taking pictures of Molly for a while before the school bus showed up, and when she reviewed those photos, she learned just how long the snake had been in striking distance. The eastern brown snake posed beside Molly in three photos!

Bianca Dickinson / Daily Mail

In the aftermath, Bianca couldn’t look at those now-infamous photos and didn’t sleep well for weeks. “Every time I shut my eyes I see that big snake and what could have happened,” she said. “I see Molly being taken away in an ambulance.”

But how did the two-year-old react to her brush with death? Well, when Bianca showed her daughter the photo, the toddler considered it for a moment. And then she said the funniest thing…

Bianca Dickinson / Daily Mail

“That’s me!” Molly said gleefully, pointing at herself, blissfully unaware of the snake in the photo. Bianca couldn’t help but laugh. At least one of her kids wouldn’t end up scarred by the moment!

Bianca Dickinson / Daily Mail

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