They’re small and slow, yet surprisingly sneaky, leaving itchy red welts if you’re not vigilant enough to smack them away. Some people are convinced that mosquitoes love them—that there’s something about their blood that makes them more delicious than others. Many have tricks to ward the pesky insects away—whether it’s stinky spray, a particular diet, or a strategic outdoor experience—and many are happy to share their expert advice for dealing with mosquitoes, often collected anecdotally over years of camping or cottaging. But as entomologist Jamie Heal warns, there are many mosquito myths floating around that won’t save you from getting bit at all.
The delicious human myth
If you’re always covered in bites, you might think it’s because you’re tastier than your fellow camper. But Heal says that mosquitoes are actually attracted to heat and carbon dioxide. Larger people emanate more heat, attracting more mosquitoes. If you’re small, you can be a target if you’re boisterous—the kind of person who waves their arms when they speak or tells long-winded stories that require more breath. If you’re little and stand like a statue, mosquitoes probably won’t bother you as much. Having goosebumps may be the best repellent of all, but as Heal warns, “Everybody is attractive to some point.”
The mosquito explosion tale
It’s a childhood tale many can’t resist trying: a mosquito lands on your flesh and instead of smacking it away you pinch the skin on either side of the mosquito and force it to gulp up as much blood as possible until it bursts. The belief is that pinching your skin will prevent the mosquito from removing its stinger — the proboscis. “I’ve heard that but I’ve never seen it so I’m not sure I believe it,” Heal says. What’s for sure is that the temptation to test the theory will give the mosquito more time to leave its saliva in your skin, which is what causes the swollen bumps you’re trying to avoid. If anything, “You’re giving yourself a bigger bite,” Heal says.
The so-called anti-mosquito diet
If mosquito-haters load up on garlic and bananas in an effort to ward off bugs, they’re wasting their time, Heal says. There’s no magic diet that will keep the bugs at bay. A Vitamin B12 patch has been proven to reduce the number of bites on a person by 40 percent, Heal says, but it’s certainly not a perfect solution. “Some people say that is still a total failure because you’re still getting bitten.”
Citronella candle fiction
Any type of candle—scented or unscented—will offer you the same amount of protection as a citronella candle, which is barely any at all. “They just don’t work,” Heal says. “It’s such a small effect that you’re still getting eaten alive if there are a lot of mosquitoes.” Since mosquitoes are attracted to heat, they may flock to the candle, but if a nearby human is generating more heat, that person will be a greater target. A better option is to rub citronella oil, or another repellant, directly on your skin.
It’s a common belief that even a little dab of perfume on the wrists or behind the ear will make you a target for mosquitoes. But Heal says mosquitoes are not really attracted to sweetness. In fact, perfumes made with oils can sometimes be just as effective as some repellants, which are often made with oils, Heal says. Repellants attach to a mosquito’s antennae, deterring a bite, and perfumes can do the very same.
The not-so-nocturnal mosquito
It’s true that mosquitoes hide in the bushes and cool, damp spots on hot summer days, but don’t be fooled into believing that you can’t get bit before sunset. What it really comes down to is temperature and sunlight. The ideal temperature for a mosquito is 12 degrees C to 22 degrees C, so mosquitoes can be out in full force during the daytime if the conditions are right, Heal says. When the temperature drops below 10 degrees C, mosquitoes tend to not bite at all, meaning after dark (either earlier or later in the season) can sometimes be the best time to skip the bug spray.
Not all water attracts mosquitoes
It’s true that swarms of mosquitoes are often found by lakes, streams, ponds, and puddles. Stagnant water that accumulates in buckets, tires, and birdbaths will also attract mosquitoes—even if there’s only a small amount—but not all bodies of water do. Dry spots may be the best places for a mosquito-free experience, but Heal says clean, chlorinated pools and hot tubs are the exceptions. “A clean pool or hot tub is never a worry,” he says.
An unexplained truth
One anecdote about mosquitoes that does stand up? Research has shown that dark colours tend to attract mosquitoes more than light colours, though there’s no clear reason to explain it, Heal says. “We don’t know why. Maybe you look like an animal with fur.” Covering your skin with light, tight-knit clothing will protect you best.