Want to Keep Mosquitoes Away? New Research Says to Avoid Wearing Red, Orange, and Black

According to a study conducted by scientists at the University of Washington, some mosquitoes are drawn to specific colors.

Mosquito sucking blood
Photo: auimeesri / Getty Images

Most people can agree that mosquito bites are unpleasant—they itch, sting, and often become red and inflamed. But what if we told you that the clothes you wear can help you dodge or attract the pesky critters? According to a new study led by scientists at the University of Washington, certain mosquitoes fly toward specific colors, including red, orange, black and cyan, which means avoiding these hues could make a difference in how badly you get bitten.

To obtain their findings, the team tracked the behavior of female yellow fever mosquitoes (a common species of the insect) when presented with different types of visual and scent cues. The researchers observed individual mosquitoes in small test chambers, into which they sprayed specific odors and presented different types of visual patterns, such as a colored dot or human hand.

When odors weren't sprayed, most of the mosquitoes ignored the dot, regardless of color. After emitting carbon dioxide into the chamber, however, mosquitoes flocked to the dot when it was red, orange, black, or cyan. Alternatively, the critters ignored the dot if it was green, blue, or purple, and this was true whether or not CO2 was present. Researchers used CO2 as an odor cue because it's what humans emit when they exhale, and although we can't smell it, mosquitoes can.

Past research has shown that smelling CO2 increases female mosquitoes' activity level (only females can drink blood and bite) and drives them to search their surrounding spaces for a host. This experiment reveals that after smelling CO2, the insects' eyes prefer certain wavelengths in the visual spectrum over others.

The most notable color that mosquitoes' flock towards is red, which is not only found on clothes, but it's also present 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 those colors, could be another way to prevent a mosquito biting," says senior author Jeffrey Riffell. When his team repeated the experiments with human skin tone pigmentation, mosquitoes flew straight towards the visual stimulus when CO2 was present.

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