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Mosquitoes choose favorite victims based on smell, study finds

Some people’s smells are just magnetic — for mosquitoes.

The blood-sucking bugs are attracted to certain people because of scents on their skin, according to a study published in the journal Cell on Tuesday.

In particular, mosquitoes flock to people covered in carboxylic acids, the study found. The acids can be found on anyone’s skin, but in varying amounts.

“These differences were stable over several years,” the study’s authors wrote. “Chemical analysis revealed that highly attractive people produce significantly more carboxylic acids in their skin emanations.”

Researchers had 64 subjects wear nylon stockings on their arms to pick up their skin scents. Then, they placed one stocking side-by-side with another inside a trap and unleashed a swarm of mosquitos.

The process was repeated in round-robin format, so every stocking sample was compared to every other sample. The most attractive stockings carried high levels of carboxylic acids, and the least attractive samples had lower levels.

“[Mosquitoes] would basically swarm to the most attractive subjects,” study author Maria Elena De Obaldia said. “It became very obvious right away.”

Scientists have long known that some people were “mosquito magnets,” but struggled to explain why. Though mosquitoes suck blood, several studies found that they’re not enticed by a particular blood type in humans.

The new study also found that it wasn’t possible for people to adjust their scent profile once mosquitoes had them marked as a favorite.

“We propose that exceptionally high or low attractiveness to mosquitoes is a ‘fixed’ trait,’” the authors wrote, “caused by factors that remain constant over a period of several years, even when environmental factors are not strictly controlled.”

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