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July 17, 2015 8:01 AM EDT

Ever wonder why mosquitoes seem drawn to your body like magnets? Scientists now understand the method the insects use to find their human prey, and it involves three steps.

According to new research published in the journal Current Biology, mosquitoes are attracted by the scent of CO2 — which is found in human breath. The insects can pick up on this trigger from a distance of 10 to 50 meters. Moving in closer, mosquitoes pick up on visual cues to find their target, an idea the researchers tested with a black spot on the floor of a wind tunnel. They can use sight to find humans from 5 to 15 meters. Finally, mosquitoes are attracted by the heat of the human body, which researchers confirmed with a heated glass panel that otherwise blended in with its surroundings. The insects can be drawn to heat from within a meter.

While scientists already knew that these three elements contributed to mosquitoes’ homing method, this is the first time they understand how all three parts work together.


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