The mosquito corner is unpleasant on summer evenings and it is often impossible to go outside. Mosquitoes track you from tens of meters away by sensing the carbon dioxide in the air you exhale. Within seconds, they come home to exposed skin and feast on your blood with an array of special needles.
Only female mosquitoes drink blood, from which they spread deadly diseases like dengue fever and malaria. Male mosquitoes are harmless, feeding mostly on nectar, but our new research confirms that they are just as annoying as female mosquitoes.
Our study, published in the Journal of Medical Entomology, dispels a common misconception that male mosquitoes avoid people. In fact, the male mosquitoes of at least one common species probably like you as much as the females – but the reason for their love and the way they express it are very different.
backyard and lab
We did a simple experiment to test male mosquitoes of this species aedes aegyptiFind out the people who spread dengue. We released the mosquitoes into a large arena, the size of a suburban yard, and seated interested subjects in a chair as bait. Cameras facing the subjects filmed the mosquitoes as they flew nearby. We have confirmed that male mosquitoes are indeed attracted to people.
Female mosquitoes are after your blood, but male mosquitoes just want to get out. In our experiments, male mosquitoes constantly roamed around people but rarely landed. In contrast, female mosquitoes land, feed on their stomach and then fly away to rest.
People vary in their attraction to female mosquitoes, and the same applies to male mosquitoes.
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Of the two participants in our study, one person was almost three times more attractive than the other. The basis for this variation isn’t fully understood, but the mix of chemicals your skin is exposed to is likely to be important.
We also tested the attractiveness of mosquitoes in small cages in the laboratory. In this environment, males showed no apparent interest in people, while female mosquitoes did. This is possible because male mosquitoes cannot detect some of the proximity signals that female mosquitoes can.
What do male mosquitoes want if they are not after our blood?
Why are male mosquitoes interested in people if they can’t eat your blood? We think it’s all about finding women. Since female mosquitoes are often around people, male mosquitoes with similar orientations should have greater reproductive success.
But more work is needed to understand the how and why. Almost all behavioral research so far has focused on female mosquitoes.
Read more: Genetic approach to mosquitoes may prevent them from spreading infection
However, there is increasing interest in releasing modified male mosquitoes to disinfect female mosquitoes, which gives practical application to our research.
Therefore, not all mosquitoes you see are there for your blood. Some guys just want you as their wingman, whether you like it or not.