Saturday, May 06, 2006

Mosquitoes like my blood

Author: Khalil A. Cassimally

Here in Mauritius, mosquitoes are in paradise. The male mosquitoes have all the fruits they’ll ever dream of – god knows whether they actually dream – all year long while the female mosquitoes can choose from a numerous number of tourists to feed on.

It is of no surprise that tourists get bitten more than we, locals do. And the reaction which occurs on the tourists’ skin is quiet unusual to me. A large red swelling develops. It is about twice the size that the one which would have formed on my skin if I was to get bitten. Apparently the bite that a tourist receives is also more irritant. In my opinion, this is because foreigners are not as used to get mosquito bites than Mauritians do. But one thing is for sire though: some people do get bitten more than others.

Why is this so? Or rather, why are some people bitten less? James Logan, a research student at the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) has found that some people give off ‘masking’ odours that prevent mosquitoes from detecting them. Another study, done earlier by Professor John Pickett and his team, showed that the number of flies circulating around a herd depended on certain cows being present. Professor Pickett and his team discovered that unattractive – to mosquitoes at least - individuals gave out different chemical signals from other cows. To be sure about this fact, the unattractive cows were removed and the number of flies bothering the herd did indeed increase. These ‘ordinary’ cows had not been camouflaged by the unattractive cows’ special ‘masking’ odour and therefore the flies were attracted to the ‘ordinary’ cows.

After some other experiments, it was concluded that the famous ‘masking’ odours were acting as repellents or as a cover up. This finding could lead to a new type of insect repellent. These would be both safer and more effective.

Next time you get bitten, just think that the mosquitoes are not attracted by your ‘sweet’ blood but by your own odour.

About the author: Khalil A.Cassimally is the editor in chief of Astronomy Journal and Astronomy Journal Ezine. He is also the co-founder of the RCPL Astronomy Club. He is currently Senior Columnist at and Columnist for h2g2 The Post where he writes 'Not Scientific Science' column.


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