If it seems like mosquitoes choose you over everyone else, you’re not imagining things. “Some people give off different compounds that make them more attractive to mosquitoes,” says Michael Riehle, Ph.D., professor of entomology at the University of Arizona. The bad news is that a lot of this comes down to your genetic makeup, which you obviously can’t change, so bug spray is always your best line of defense. (Dr. Riehle says 25 percent DEET works just fine.)
Still, there are a few lifestyle factors that might be making you a mosquito magnet. Be diligent if you fall into any of the categories that follow.
1. You Just Worked Out
“Mosquitoes sense carbon dioxide from a distance, then follow it back to you,” entomologist Dr. Michael Riehle says. And you know who gives off more carbon dioxide? People in the middle of (or who just finished) a hard workout. All that panting means more carbon dioxide to attract those flying foes. Dr. Riehle says mosquitoes are also attracted to lactic acid, which your body produces during intense exercise.
“Mosquitoes are also attracted to heat, and you give off more heat when you’re exercising,” says Syed Zainulabeuddin, Ph.D., assistant professor of entomology at the University of Kentucky. Jump in the pool to cool off if you can (and don’t forget to reapply your bug spray when you get out).
2. You’re Sick
“We see that mosquitoes are much more attracted to sick children than healthy ones, as shown by multiple researchers working with malaria-infected children in Africa,” entomologist Dr. Syed Zainulabeuddin says. Even though being bedridden is essentially the opposite of working out, the reasoning is the same: “You breathe more when you’re sick, which means you release more carbon dioxide.” Plus, your core temperature is higher (remember: mosquitoes are attracted to heat), and you’re not as fast when you swat them away.
3. You’re Tall
Since bigger people — both by height and weight — produce more carbon dioxide than smaller people, they’re also more likely to attract mosquitoes from a distance. “This is one of the reasons why children get bit less often than adults, on the whole,” the Smithsonian magazine reports.
4. You’re Wearing Dark Clothes
If you want to reduce your bug bites, consider wearing white to your next barbecue (and be careful around the condiments). “Dark colors disproportionately attract more mosquitoes than light colors and white,” Dr. Zainulabeuddin says. Dr. Michael Riehle adds, “In the lab, mosquitoes are far more likely to land on a black cloth than a lighter-color cloth.”
As previously mentioned, mosquitoes start by sensing carbon dioxide-producing bodies from a distance. But as they get closer, they use their vision to choose their perfect host in a large group. “Dark objects absorb more heat, which mosquitoes find attractive,” Dr. Zainulabeuddin says.
5. You Need to Do Laundry
“We release different compounds when we sweat, and bacteria break down these compounds to lighter and more volatile chemicals, such as ammonia, resulting in a certain odor,” Dr. Zainulabeuddin says. And you guessed it, that odor can attract mosquitoes, so you probably want to change out of those leggings you wore to hot yoga before heading to the picnic.
This is especially true for your socks. “Mosquitoes are attracted to a certain type of bacteria (Brevibacterium epidermidis) commonly found on feet,” Dr. Riehle says. (Fun fact: It’s also found on Limburger cheese, and mosquitoes love the stuff.) This is also why people often get bites on their ankles and feet.
6. You’re Drinking Beer
Mosquitoes were more likely to land on people after they drank a beer, according to a small study published in the Journal of the American Mosquito Control Association. Researchers thought this could have something to do with increased skin temperature and the ethanol in sweat, but they weren’t able to find a correlation.
Dr. Riehle says the increased risk is probably minimal (and this research hasn’t been replicated), so apply bug spray regardless of whether or not you plan on drinking.
7. You’ve Got That Something Special
While these things indeed make you more attractive to mosquitoes, to a certain degree these bugs just like who they like. As Dr. Riehle explains, you can attract a mosquito with all the carbon dioxide and dark colors in the world, but it can still land on you and decide it doesn’t like you (no offense). “Mosquitoes have taste receptors on their feet, so they discriminate further once they land,” he says.
Similarly, even if you wear light colors, breathe lightly and do everything right, a mosquito can still prefer the very specific combination of compounds you’re giving off, which means bug spray will always be the best way to prevent mosquito bites.
Read more: How to Make Your Own Natural Bug Spray
What Do YOU Think?
Does it seem like you get bit by mosquitoes disproportionately as compared to your friends? Have you ever thought about why? Did you realize all of these reasons why mosquitoes are attracted to one person over another? Do you remember to bring the bug spray when you’re going to be outside? What else do you do to ward off mosquitoes? Share your thoughts and suggestions in the comments below!