If you want to prevent mosquito bites, the key may be in the clothes you wear.
That’s because new research shows the insects are more drawn to some colors than others. The findings suggest wearing colors that are less attractive to mosquitoes could help people avoid getting bitten.
“Mosquitoes were not attracted to blue, green, purple, and white,” Jeff Riffell, a study co-author, told McClatchy News in a Feb. 7 email. “The results from the study show that colors like black and red are very attractive, and if you were to wear those colors in your clothes, you would increase your attraction to the mosquito. However, if you were to wear white, or blue and green, you would be much less visually attractive to the mosquito.”
While officials said more research is necessary to examine other environmental factors, the findings offer clues on how the insects find their hosts. That could be important because in addition to being a nuisance, mosquitoes have the potential to carry serious diseases.
To come up with the findings, a team of researchers studied the behaviors of 50 mosquitoes from the species Aedes aegypti. Using a controlled environment, scientists released the insects and observed their reactions to different sights and smells, according to information published Feb. 4 in the journal Nature.
“We use a real-time 3D tracking system and wind tunnel that allows careful control of the olfactory and visual environment to quantify the behavior of more than 1.3 million mosquito trajectories,” the researchers wrote.
In the study, researchers exposed the mosquitoes to various colors while carbon dioxide was sprayed. When the insects smelled the gas, they were attracted to some wavelengths — such as orange and red. But when those colors were filtered out or mosquitoes had mutations that impacted their abilities to detect carbon dioxide, they weren’t as attracted.
“Our results show that odor is critical for mosquitoes’ wavelength preferences and that the mosquito visual system is a promising target for inhibiting their attraction to human hosts,” researchers said.
The results built on previous studies, which reportedly found that carbon dioxide increased mosquito activity.
“When they smell specific compounds, like CO2 from our breath, that scent stimulates the eyes to scan for specific colors and other visual patterns, which are associated with a potential host, and head to them,” Riffell, a biology professor, said in a news release from the University of Washington.
Also in the study, scientists showed the mosquitoes human volunteers and cards with various skin tones. They found that the insects were attracted to skin, no matter the pigmentation.
“Sensitivity to orange and red correlates with mosquitoes’ strong attraction to the color spectrum of human skin, which is dominated by these wavelengths,” the researchers wrote.
What does that mean if you want to prevent mosquito bites? While a person’s breath, sweat and temperature previously were all considered to attract mosquitoes, Riffell now has another suggestion.
“In this study, we found a fourth cue: the color red, which can not only be found on your clothes, but is also found in everyone’s skin,” Riffell said in the release. “The shade of your skin doesn’t matter, we are all giving off a strong red signature. Filtering out those attractive colors in our skin, or wearing clothes that avoid those colors, could be another way to prevent a mosquito biting.”
In addition to the University of Washington, researchers in the study represented the University of California, Santa Barbara and the University of Freiburg in Germany.