Seeing Red? Why Wearing Red May Attracted Mosquitoes

One of the drawbacks of summer is the constant presence of mosquitoes. If they’re not buzzing around near your ears, they’re biting you over and over again, leaving behind their trademark bite marks. One thing you may not have realized, however, is that the color of your clothing could make you more of a target for these notorious pests.

Connecting the Dots

This was the conclusion of University of Washington (UW) researchers, who published their study in the journal Nature Communications. For their work, the UW team put a specific type of mosquito under the microscope known as the Aedes aegypti. These insects were placed into small test chambers, and subsequently exposed to a variety of visual and scent cues. The list of cues included a person’s hand and a colored dot.

It should be noted that mosquitoes rely on carbon dioxide to locate their next source of food. Of course, humans are constantly exhaling this gas, making us prime targets for all types of mosquitoes (there are over 200 different species of mosquitoes in the United States alone).

Color Coded

Being cognizant of this fact, the authors first placed their minute test subjects into chambers with no carbon dioxide whatsoever. The chambers also included a dot of a specific color. In the absence of carbon dioxide, the mosquitoes showed zero interest in the dot.

That all changed when CO2 was added to the equation, as the mosquitoes abruptly altered their flight patterns. However, even the addition of carbon dioxide wasn’t fully enough to grab the mosquitoes attention; the UW researchers noted that their flying subjects only flew to dots that were red, orange, black or cyan. In contrast, not even the presence of CO2 could convince the mosquitoes to make a beeline towards blue, green or purple dots.

So what do these findings mean? Timothy Best, technical manager at Terminix and a board-certified entomologist, offered the following opinion about the UW study. “Light colors are perceived as a threat to mosquitoes, which is why many species avoid biting in direct sunlight,” stated Best. “Mosquitoes are very susceptible to dying by dehydration, therefore light colors may instinctually represent danger and prompt avoidance. In contrast, darker colors may replicate shadows, which are more likely to absorb and retain heat, allowing mosquitoes to use their sophisticated antenna to locate a host.”

A Change of Clothes?

This doesn’t necessarily mean that wearing certain colors will ward off mosquitoes, as there are several factors that make a person more likely to be a mosquito target. For example, sweat odors and high temperatures can make a person more likely to become a mosquito’s lunchtime meal. However, Best notes that opting for specific colored shirts couldn’t hurt. “Dark colors stand out to mosquitoes, whereas light colors blend in. People should consider lighter colors as an additional means of possibly reducing bites.”

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