Many states, especially those in the South, often refer to the mosquito as their “state bird,” a dry joke making light of the high prevalence of the bothersome bug. Whether it’s fearing the itchy welt or worrying about contracting a virus, many of us go to extremes to keep the pests away. You might think that bug spray or citronella candles are the best repellants, but a recent study found that swatting at mosquitoes may actually help them learn to stay away from you.
The study, conducted by researchers at Virginia Tech, confirmed what scientists already suspected: that mosquitoes remember the taste and smell of human blood and often pick on individuals whose blood is “sweeter” to them. That’s why your friend had a slew of bug bites during that last camping trip, but you only emerged with just a few. But the finding changed when researchers observed their behavior around people who shooed them away more; that is, mosquitoes, may remember the smell of sweeter blood, but they also remember the defensive measures taken against them.
The authors found that the brain chemical dopamine plays a role in a mosquito learning which hosts to attack and which to avoid. So while a person’s blood can be remembered as particularly delicious, so can their ferocious swatting techniques.
The full study was published Feb. 5, 2018 in the journal Current Biology.