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Who Do Mosquitoes Love?

Some people are mosquito magnets. They get bitten a lot! Scientists think they know why.

Two kids sit at a campfire and mosquitoes fly to only one of the kids as the other kid reacts.

© nataka—iStock/Getty Images Plus, © Nelieta/; Animation Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

Have you ever wondered why some people get lots of mosquito bites, and other people barely get bitten? Scientists think they may have found the answer.

Scientists believe that some people produce more of a certain chemical than others. This chemical produces an odor that humans might not smell—but mosquitos do. 

“If you have high levels of this [chemical] on your skin, you’re going to be the one at the picnic getting all the bites,” scientist Leslie Vosshall told the Guardian. Vosshall was one of the scientists who did an experiment that suggested this was true.  

Scientists asked 64 people to wear nylon stockings over their arms for six hours a day over several days. During this time, each stocking picked up the scent of the person wearing it. Each stocking was then placed at the end of a long tube. Then scientists released mosquitoes to see if the insects would be more attracted to some of the stockings than others. Sure enough, the mosquitoes swarmed some of the stockings and basically ignored others.

Next, scientists looked at the chemicals that each person’s body was producing. They learned that the people whose scent the mosquitoes liked produced more of a certain chemical. Scientists call these people “mosquito magnets.” 

People can’t change how much of a chemical their bodies make. But scientists say it’s helpful to know what mosquitoes are attracted to. It could lead to the development of more products that are meant to keep mosquitoes away.

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Fun Fact

© Refluo, Design201001/; Animation Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

Antarctica and Iceland are the only two places in the world without mosquitoes!

Can’t Catch Me!

Side by side photos of Biston robustum blending in with a plant. One photo is a closeup of the other.

© Stig Karlsson/; Photo composite Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

Where is the caterpillar in these photos?

Humans can’t always hide their scent from hungry mosquitoes. But some animals can hide their odors! Scientists call this “scent camouflage.”

One type of caterpillar, called Biston robustum, is a favorite meal for some types of ants. But the caterpillar has two clever ways to hide from its enemy. First, it looks a bit like a twig, making a real twig its perfect hiding spot. It blends right in! 

Second, this caterpillar’s body can match the scent of the type of twig where the caterpillar rests. Ants use their sense of smell when they hunt. But they don’t seem to smell the caterpillar. In fact, scientists have seen ants step right over a tasty caterpillar! But when scientists move the caterpillar to a different plant, the ants attack it because they can smell it.

Getting Some Air

Several mosquito larvae underwater using air tubes to get oxygen at the surface.

James Gathany—Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Did you know that young mosquitoes (called larvae) live underwater? They breathe through a tube that’s like a snorkel!

Learn more about mosquitoes at Britannica School!

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Word of the Day


Part of speech:



: of, relating to, or connected with the sense of smell

Definitions provided by
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Can you find all the flying insects?


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