mosquito chasing a man
Photo: Mark Bowler/Getty Images; Illustration: Serge Bloch

What You'll Learn

  1. Introduction
  2. How to Beat 'Em
Why can't these evil buzzing buggers just leave us alone? Blame humans encroaching on mosquito turf—wetlands and salt marshes paved for second homes and suburban sprawl—and arrivistes like the Asian tiger mosquito, a "container breeder" that thrives in damp tires and yard toys. Mosquitoes are short on predators, not offering much of a meal, even for bats. But few quests unite the world like the mission to stomp out itch-inducing insects that spread disease, like West Nile virus, now in all the lower 48 states. Want to avoid them? Keep reading.

They don't all bite
A male mosquito won't poke you with its proboscis, but females need blood to procreate. They pick up on the carbon dioxide in exhaled breath; the larger the person, the more CO2. They are also drawn to fashionable black, navy, and red clothing and to quick movements like fidgeting (or swatting). Scientists are still studying why mosquitoes find some people tastier than others; body chemicals, like lactic acid in sweat, are factors.

They are locavores
While an occasional species has been known to travel tens of miles, most mosquitoes (including imports) traffic within a radius of less than three miles. Container breeders like to stay put within a backyard stocked with puddle-inducing clutter and bare skin.

They have trained noses
Mosquitoes zigzag like sharks, sniffing for target giveaways like CO2 and the bacteria found in smell socks (and, oddly, Limburger cheese). Tiger mosquitoes actually prefer ankles and calves—the drumsticks, so to speak. For some of the 160 identified species in the U.S., no human will do. In Florida, types carrying the West Nile virus have zeroed in on smell alligators (and done some of them in).

They crave water
You won't hear mosquitoes complain about climate change: More rain means more moist areas where they can lurk until sundown, like Count Dracula. (Though mosquitoes hate full sun, tiger mosquitoes will bite by day and, creepily, under a full moon.) Standing water is a skeeter sanctuary, be it in gutters, soggy fire pits, plant saucers, or wrinkles in a tarp thrown over a log pile.
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