The Scents and Colors Mosquitoes Are Drawn to

3 minute read

As the weather starts heating up this week, you may be tempted to go outside—but with the outdoors comes the possibility of getting bitten by mosquitoes. And if you find yourself getting a lot of mosquito bites, it could be because of the way you smell or the colors of the clothes you are wearing, recent research has found.

“If you think you are a mosquito magnet, it’s probably the case,” Jeffrey Riffell, a biology professor at the University of Washington who studies mosquito sensory systems, said in a video on the university’s website released earlier this month. “Some individuals are bitten way more than others.”

Riffell has been working with a team of researchers to try to better understand how mosquitoes find food—male mosquitoes drink nectar from flowers to get sugar, while females drink blood as a means to help with laying eggs.

“Mosquitoes are remarkably good at trying to locate a person to drink their blood,” Riffell said in the video. “They are vampires, and they’re very good at what they’re doing. Their eyes, their vision, their nose, everything about them is geared towards finding us and biting us.”

Riffell and his team discovered that female mosquitoes find humans “by following a trail of scent cues,” such as the chemicals humans exude from their skin and sweat and the carbon dioxide gas humans exhale when they breathe, according to the university’s website.

Mosquitoes are also drawn to certain colors—they love red and black, Riffell said in the video. But mosquitoes tend to dislike white and green, Riffell added.

Read More: The Least Toxic Ways to Protect Yourself from Ticks

“Unfortunately, they can learn. If you are very attractive and they bite you and drink your blood, they will then go back to you because they learned this kind of positive association,” Riffell said in the video. “The good news is that they can learn to avoid you, so if you're trying to swat them they’ll learn that and they’ll avoid you a little bit.”

Mosquitoes can detect three different types of sugar sources, University of Washington biology PhD student Melissa Leon Norena said in the video. One of those sources is fruits, and researchers are trying to create the scent that mosquitoes are drawn to. If the mosquitoes are attracted to that perfume, then researchers can lace it with a toxin that can kill the insects.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has called the mosquito “the world’s deadliest animal” because the insects can spread diseases to humans, such as malaria, dengue fever, West Nile virus, and Zika virus. Research has found that climate change has led to an increased risk of mosquito-borne diseases. Last week, Southern Nevada Health District cautioned residents that the area was experiencing the highest level of mosquito activity in known history, with more than 3,000 mosquitoes testing positive for West Nile virus.

“The information that we’re kind of developing and finding in the laboratory has real world implications and can really help, I think, many people in many different parts of the world,” Riffell said in the video.

Get alerts on the biggest breaking news stories here

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at