During the summer, many people fight the bite by using smells that keep mosquitoes away – citronella, chickens, garlic, citrus, catnip, and more. But, there are also many specific smells that mosquitoes can’t get enough of! It’s just as important to avoid letting these smells linger.
One of the most common culprits may surprise you… Smelly feet may keep fellow humans away, but they attract mosquitoes! They are particularly desirable to the Anopheles gambiae, which is the species that carries malaria.
When looking for a meal, mosquitoes find humans using smell, not sight. Therefore, our breath, sweat, and other odors are like signals that let mosquitoes know where we are. Mosquitoes are attracted to human smell.
According to entomologist Daniel Kline, there is a specific bacteria that grows on human feet that lures mosquitoes in. The foot bacteria stays in your socks after you take them off, so dirty socks will also attract biting pests.
But it’s not just any bacteria. Certain strains are more inviting than others. A study published in the Public Library of Science ONE journal examined different foot odor samples to see which ones were the most attractive.
The researchers from the Netherlands sampled sweat from the feet of 48 volunteers. (That is not a job we envy!) Some samples were highly attractive to mosquitoes, while others were not. It turns out that mosquitoes were most interested in samples that contained higher levels of Staphylococcus. On the other hand, Variovorax and Pseudomonas bacteria repelled mosquitoes. The scientists also found that mosquitoes preferred sweat samples that contained high levels of one bacteria, instead of a variety of bacteria.
So, feet might all smell the same to humans, but mosquitoes are a bit pickier. These findings mean that it might be possible to prevent the spread of malaria and other mosquito-borne illnesses by changing human body odor using scientific processes. These prevention methods would need to be personalized based on each individual’s natural odors and bacteria levels.
ABC News reports that a related project is already underway in Tanzania. Dr. Fredros Okumu is trying to fight malaria by creating traps that emit artificial recreations of human foot odors, in the hopes of luring the bugs away from people. He received a $775,000 grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Grand Challenges Canada for his work.
The bottom line? Keep your feet clean, and you might be able to avoid being bitten as often! There are also other odors you should steer clear of, such as Limburger cheese, floral perfumes, and beer.