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Entomologist Donald Barnard demonstrates the attraction of female mosquitoes to his hand in an olfactometer.

Read: More information on this research in Agricultural Research.

Just What Attracts Mosquitoes?

By Tara Weaver-Missick
February 4, 2000

Agricultural Research Service scientists have found more than 340 different chemical scents produced by human skin--some of which are attractive to mosquitoes.

With an eye toward developing trap lures, ARS researchers are testing individual scents and combinations for attractiveness to different mosquito species.

Research chemist Ulrich R. Bernier developed a technique using tiny glass beads that adsorb some scents, thus helping to identify mosquito-attractive organic compounds from humans. Bernier is with the Mosquito and Fly Research Unit of the ARS Center for Medical, Agricultural and Veterinary Entomology in Gainesville, Fla.

Bernier has been combining different blends and screening them at different levels to see which draw mosquitoes. In laboratory tests, he can get about 90 percent of the mosquitoes to come to one particularly alluring mixture. He says this is impressive, considering a human arm and hand attract about 70 percent of the same mosquitoes.

Finding the right chemical scent is important, because what may be attractive for one species may not be for another. There are four to six dozen mosquito species out of 2,700 worldwide that transmit diseases--making it difficult to pinpoint attractants unique to each.

Ultimately, a better understanding of mosquito attraction should help in developing more effective, environmentally safe repellents for protection from insects that prey on both humans and livestock.

ARS is the chief scientific agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

More information on this research appears in the February issue of Agricultural Research magazine.

Scientific contact: Ulrich R. Bernier, ARS Center for Medical, Agricultural and Veterinary Entomology, Mosquito & Fly Research Unit, Gainesville, Fla.; phone (352) 374-5931, fax (352) 374-5922,