Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Calling all mosquito magnets!

Two posts ago, I told you about my life-long (and still ongoing) search for the ideal mosquito repellent. Over the years, I had come to realize that mosquitoes preferred to bite me rather than other people, and that made me everyone's favorite outdoor companion. After all, who wouldn't want to bring a fully portable mosquito decoy with them into the deep woods of New England? Most people were quite content to put up with my constant slapping and cursing for the chance to laugh at my polkadotted pattern of quarter-sized welts when the day was over. And all these years, I never knew what made me so.... yummy.

Well, a few days ago, I came across this long overdue article about what makes mosquitoes prefer some people over others. While it doesn't help me to pinpoint what exactly it is about me that is so tasty to skeeters, the article does describe numerous factors related to genetics and body chemistry that contribute to a person's palatability.

Astoundingly, 85% of a person's susceptibility is genetic! Also, certain bodily compounds, when found in high concentrations on the skin, attract mosquitoes. These include cholesterol and steroid hormones, and acids such as uric acid. It has also been found that mosquitoes love people who release more carbon dioxide, so that makes larger people and pregnant women (because they produce higher-than-average levels of carbon dioxide) more susceptible. So slim down, or hurry up and have that baby... or just hold your breath in the woods! Also, movement and heat are attractive to mosquitoes. So sit still and take your lumps like a man/woman!

According to the article, if you're going to be outside, it's best to be a lazy loaf, because if you are exerting yourself, you will draw mosquitoes to yourself in numerous ways: Your movement; the increased carbon dioxide you release from the heavier breathing that accompanies activity; and the lactic acid that comes from your sweat glands.

So how do you protect yourself? The article goes over a few types of repellents you can try. I personally opt for the mesh "bug armor" these days. Dorky, but effective. When I'm out in the woods making recordings I'm generally there for a long time, so I don't want to be reapplying repellent all the time. And I'm still scared of that DEET stuff. I remember from my youth that it would melt plastic on contact.

I also recall reading in several outdoor magazines as a kid that you could make yourself smell worse to mosquitoes by eating raw garlic or a yeast cake! And your own body odor just might turn you into everyone's least favorite outdoor companion.

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