9 surprising facts about mosquito bites

Mosquito bite

Ah, mosquitoes. Much to our collective chagrin, they’re just as much a part of life at the cottage as the lake, the dock, and the barbecue.

According to the Mayo clinic, most mosquito bites in North America are itchy and irritating, but generally harmless.

The best way to stop the itching? Take your mind off it, and to help you do that, we’ve got ten surprising facts about mosquito bites you may not have known.

1. Mosquitoes’ mouthparts are surprisingly flexible—and complicated. When a mosquito bites you, its mouthparts—which are actually six separate parts, including jaws, teeth, and a two-part “needle”—help pierce your skin. The “needle” can be bent almost to right angles, which allows the mosquito to search for a blood vessel and start feeding. Check out these amazing National Geographic videos of a mosquito feeding under a microscope for a detailed look.

2. Think mosquitoes like you better? You’re probably right. According to Dr. Raj Bhardwaj, between 67 and 85 percent of your attractiveness to mosquitoes is based on genetics. They also like carbon dioxide and a variety of chemicals on your skin, so keep your heavy outdoor workouts to times other than dusk and dawn, when mosquitoes are most active.

3. The protein in your blood helps make mosquito eggs. You probably know that only female mosquitoes bite mammals. That’s because females need protein in order to produce eggs, whereas the males can simply exist on sugars they get from plant sap and other sources.

4. You tend to become desensitized to mosquito bites over time. The Mayo Clinic points out that, because adults tend to have had many mosquito bites throughout their lives, children are more likely to have a more extreme reaction to a bite, including large areas of swelling, soreness, and redness.

5. Mosquito bites aren’t always harmless. In Canada, mosquitoes can carry West Nile virus and encephalitis. Other mosquito-borne diseases, such as chikungunya and dengue fever, have been found in the US after making their way north from warmer countries. While malaria can be carried by mosquitoes in the US, outbreaks have been almost unheard of since the early 1950s.

6. That itching? It could be worse. When your leg itches after a mosquito bite, it’s because your body is sensitive to chemicals in the mosquito’s saliva. But mosquito bites can also cause more severe allergic reactions that can include hives, blistering lesions, trouble breathing, and swelling of the lymph nodes. If you experience any of these symptoms, see a doctor.

7. DEET works by confusing a mosquito’s sense of smell. As we’ve mentioned, mosquitoes find food (ie. you) by sensing chemicals on your skin, which act as bright red blinking “eat here” signs. DEET interferes with a mosquito’s ability to sense lactic acid, one of the primary chemicals it uses to find prey. Not fond of DEET? Soy-based repellents and various essential oils work as well, but for a much shorter time.

8. If you really hate mosquito bites, move to Antarctica or Iceland. Those are the only two places on earth where there are no mosquitoes. They might be a little far for a weekend cottage visit, though.

9. Mosquitoes don’t actually want to bite you. That might not seem obvious as you’re leaping across your bed trying to swat a buzzing skeeter at 3 a.m., but mosquitoes actually prefer to feed on horses, cattle, and birds. But when it comes down to it, blood is blood, and they’ll take a meal where they can get it.