And why do some of us seem to be mosquito magnets while others never get bitten?
Mosquitoes. Arguably some of the most pesky little critters in the world. All you ask for is one camping trip where you can make s’mores and sing songs around a bonfire in peace, but it’s seemingly impossible without waking up with about 20 itchy red bumps the next morning.
So what’s actually happening inside of our bodies as these annoying insects take a bite? Interestingly, only female mosquitoes bite us because they need blood to produce eggs. A common misconception is that mosquitoes drink our blood for nourishment, but they actually feed on flower nectar.
First and foremost, the mosquito uses her proboscis, a long, tubular sucking mouthpart, to break through the epidermis, or outer layer of cells that make up skin. Then, she’ll dig through the skin in search of a blood vessel — this is what you see happening in the video at the end of this article. In order to allow them to keep drinking our blood, mosquito saliva contains an anticoagulant that prevents the blood from clotting.
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And why does our body then get those itchy red bumps? To combat the foreign anticoagulant, our bodies release a chemical compound called histamine. It’s the same compound we release during an allergic reaction — hence why allergy creams and medications are called antihistamines. Histamine causes the blood vessels around the bite to grow, forming that annoying red bump. It also irritates the nerves around the bump, thus causing that persistent itchy sensation.
Perhaps the biggest mystery when it comes to mosquitoes is why some of us tend to emerge from hikes covered head to toe in itchy bumps, while others remain unscathed. Why do mosquitoes seem to love some of us and disregard others? Research has found a few contributing factors.
It turns out that an estimated 20 percent of us are mosquito magnets. Unsurprisingly, blood type plays a role — one study found that, in a controlled setting, mosquitoes chose people with Type O blood almost twice as often as those with Type A (Type B fell somewhere in the middle).
However, there were a few other factors that you have more control over. For instance, one study found that just a single 12-ounce bottle of beer could make you more attractive to mosquitoes. Why? It remains somewhat of a mystery. Researchers suspected that mosquitoes would be attracted to drinkers since alcohol increases the amount of ethanol excreted in sweat, and it also increases body temperature. However, they found that neither of these factors correlated with mosquito landings. Maybe the bugs just like to get a little buzz too.
In general, researchers believe that underlying genetic factors account for a person’s overall attractiveness to mosquitoes. However, even things like shirt color can attract the little pests — wearing colors that stand out, like black, dark blue or red, may make it easier for mosquitoes to find you, according to medical entomologist Jonathan Day in an interview with NBC.
According to WebMD, some of the best chemical-based mosquito repellents are DEET and Picaridin. If you’re looking for a more natural repellent, soybean oil-based repellent can protect skin from mosquitoes for about an hour and a half, and oil of eucalyptus products could provide a longer lasting protection.
But aside from the relentless annoyance following a bite from the pesky bugs, watching a video of a mosquito digging through skin in search of a blood vessel is creepy and intriguing all wrapped up in one. Keep your eyes peeled at 0:19 when she finally nails it.
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