A new study conducted by researchers from the University of Washington found that mosquitoes are most naturally attracted to the color red. While the insects respond to certain sensory cues, their work shows that red, more than any other color, is particularly attractive to mosquitoes.
“One of the most common questions I’m asked is ‘What can I do to stop mosquitoes from biting me?’” said researcher Jeffrey Riffell. “I used to say that there are three major cues that attract mosquitoes: your breath, your sweat, and the temperature of your skin. In this study, we found a fourth cue: the color red, which can not only be found on your clothes, but is also found in everyone’s skin.
“The shade of your skin doesn’t matter, we are all giving off a strong red signature. Filtering out those attractive colors in our skin, or wearing clothes that avoid these colors, could be another way to prevent a mosquito biting.”
Understanding what attracts mosquitoes
For the study, the researchers analyzed the behaviors of yellow fever mosquitoes in test chambers. The team tested their reactions after spraying different odors and displaying different visual cues.
The study showed that smell was an important component to what attracted the mosquitoes, followed up closely by the color red. When there was no scent used in the trial, the mosquitoes were uninterested in any of the other colored stimuli. However, when CO2 was sprayed into the chamber, and there was a red cue present, the mosquitoes were most attracted to it. The study also showed that there are other colors that are attractive to mosquitoes, including black, cyan, and orange.
The researchers conducted another trial using cards that reflected the tones of human skin and another that involved a human hand wearing a green glove. The scent of CO2 continued to be important in these trials; the mosquitoes were only interested in going after the stimuli after smelling CO2. Just like the first trial, the mosquitoes were mostly attracted to the colors closest to human skin, which are red-toned.
“Imagine you’re on a sidewalk and you smell pie crust and cinnamon,” said Riffell. “That’s probably a sign that there’s a bakery nearby, and you might start looking around for it. Here, we started to learn what visual elements that mosquitoes are looking for after smelling their own version of a bakery.”
While more work is needed to better understand what other stimuli are most attractive to mosquitoes, these findings highlight why some consumers may be more likely to get a mosquito bite than others.