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Mosquitoes can learn not to bite you, UW study says

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LISTEN: Study: Mosquitoes can learn from your swats

According to a group of University of Washington researchers, mosquitoes can learn to associate a person’s scent with the feeling of being swatted. If you swat at them enough, they may stay away from you altogether.

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“They can actually recognize individual humans that they have learned the association of a kind of vibration or a nearby swat. They will actually go and avoid that person,” UW biology professor Jeff Riffell told Dave Ross on Seattle’s Morning News.

When mosquitoes are in the act of biting, they are extremely sensitive to any kind of movement, Riffell said.

“An example is you can actually look at a horse or, say, a cow in the field and they’re constantly moving their ears or swishing their tails or just shaking themselves. That’s to remove the biting of any sort of insects like mosquitoes,” he explained.

When a mosquito is swatted, it associates that movement with the scent of the person doing the swatting.

“Those mosquitoes that have ‘learned’ you, if they are given the choice between you and another person, they’ll then shift and go to that other person,” Riffell said.

Riffell’s group of researchers also shed some light on the common belief that some people are tastier to mosquitoes than others.

“We actually looked at a variety of different people. We found out there are individuals that are super-attractors. They smell just amazingly attractive to the mosquitoes. Other people weren’t really that interesting. The mosquitoes just didn’t really care,” Riffell said. “It’s probably something in the DNA and probably something to do with the bacteria that’s growing on your skin.”

But if you’re thinking that abstaining from showering could help keep mosquitoes at bay, Riffell disagrees. Soaps and other perfumed substances can actually help drive away the pesky bugs.

“If you’re clean and if you have some perfume on you, they are going to probably avoid you more than if you’re stinky,” he said.

Listen to the full interview here.

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