Mosquitoes might like your smell, but they remember your swat, study finds

BLACKSBURG, Va. — 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.

Mosquito in insect flight simulator
Researchers used an insect flight simulator (pictured here) along with CRISPR gene editing and RNAi techniques to determine that dopamine is a key mediator of aversive learning in mosquitoes. (Photo by Kiley Riffell /

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.

Clément Vinauger, assistant professor of biochemistry, and Chloé Lahondère, a research assistant professor, demonstrated that mosquitoes learn which individuals to attack and which to leave alone with aversive learning. They trained female Aedes aegypti mosquitoes to associate certain odors, such as human body odor, with unpleasant vibrations and shocks.

Mosquito brain
Researchers used an insect flight simulator (pictured here) along with CRISPR gene editing and RNAi techniques to determine that dopamine is a key mediator of aversive learning in mosquitoes. (Photo courtesy of Gabriella Wolff /

After the training, the mosquitoes were put into an insect flight simulator, where they had to fly upwind and choose between the human odor and a control odor. The mosquitoes, even though before the training they preferred human odor, avoided it in the test.

Using sophisticated tools like CRISPR gene editing and RNAi, the scientists were able to isolate dopamine as the main mediator in mosquito adverse learning.

“Unfortunately, there is no way of knowing exactly what attracts a mosquito to a particular human — individuals are made up of unique molecular cocktails that include combinations of more than 400 chemicals,” explains Lahondère in a release. “However, we now know that mosquitoes are able to learn odors emitted by their host and avoid those that were more defensive.”

The authors believe that their findings may provide valuable insight into how humans can better keep mosquitoes away and avoid a dreaded bite.

“Understanding these mechanisms of mosquito learning and preferences may provide new tools for mosquito control,” says Vinauger. “For example, we could target mosquitoes’ ability to learn and either impair it or exploit it to our advantage.”

The full study was published Feb. 5, 2018 in the journal Current Biology.


  1. Our tax dollars at work!! “Training mosquitos” sounds like a great investment in the future. Just imagine the crowds that will be drawn to watch a mosquito circus performance.

    1. Or maybe this research will lead to saving some of the more than 1,000,000 people killed worldwide by mosquito bites every year.

      1. BS Jay…. we don’t live in grass or mud huts and sleep in chicken poop. The report didn’t link good mosquitoes with disease bearing mosquitoes.

        1. Oh I am sorry your Royal city higness… I didn’t realize that your concerns are the only concerns. In rural/waterside communities mosquitos are a huge problem still. They don’t only visit the poor. ????

          1. I live in Florida, a tropical paradise, the presence of diseased carrying mosquitoes is just as big a problem here. The report doesn’t factor in the cause of the poverty and squalor people are forced to live in by the rulers of their countries in Africa and South America.

            You may kiss my ring now.

          2. So what you are saying is you brought in a completely unrelated and irrelevant topic just to be a contrarian. Mosquitos don’t give two poops for your social/economic status. Thank you for clarifying, Mary.

            Seems you enjoy kissing it yourself. ????

          3. Sorry you can’t see the relationship with people that have no choice in their exposure to mosquitoes.

          4. They don’t give a sh*t about this study, either. Or who swats what mosquito or who has the more Ph balanced blood. If you go to place with mosquitos, they will bite you. You know what worked? And saved countless lives? DDT

      2. If saving people’s lives is important to you, why don’t you petition to make DDT legal? Leftist Rachel Carson lied about it to Congress, resulting in its ban, which allows MILLIONS to needlessly suffer and die each year of Malaria and other diseases. Rachel Carson has killed many more people than any tyrant in history!

  2. The ones I swat learn nothing. They are dead. And it has been proven long ago that the bloodsuckers are attracted to CO2. The same way the loony leftwing global warming crowd are attracted to CO2.

    1. The only good mosquito is a dead mosquito. Why can’t we solve this problem? (Same with the loony left)

      1. We had something that killed and prevented mosquitos and didn’t harm any wildlife or the environment, but a Leftist, Rachel Carson, got it outlawed by lying about it. It was called DDT.

        1. They still publish her stupid book, “Silent Spring” and probably use it as a text in some schools.
          It’s full of wishful thinking, fabricated science and leftist paranoia criticizing the effective use of DDT against Malaria and Dengue fever.

    2. If you swat near them, to where they point where you could have swatted them but were slightly too lazy, they also generally leave you alone.

      Works for clouds of gnats and other bugs as well. If you swat at them vigorously they usually disperse. Another trick is to hold your hand up in the air or stand next to a tree, as they try to go towards your highest point of your body, usually your head possibly because there is usually more exposed flesh around the head of perhaps to try to gather intel on how dangerous their mark is or perhaps both.

  3. I’m all for any research that can ‘fix’ the mosquito problems we ALL face. I live on the Texas Gulf coast and at certain times…those little Ba$tard$ are really bad. ANYTHING that can help alleviate the ‘problem’ is welcomed. Spraying toxic chemicals on ourselves and everything around us is NOT the best solution. I figure it is money well spent IF these peeps can find a ‘real’ solution. Mosquitos are a danger to ALL of us.

    1. Dude, get one of these:,eid-avragtmrhg&utm_campaign=8175035

      Whether flies, mosquitors or gnats, the thing is a lifesaver and it works! I see SPARKS fly (literally) when it gets a fly inside of it.

      It’s like a mobile bug zapper. The $4 one I bought at Harbor Freight is great so don’t pay much more than that.

      My wife teased me about how silly it looks but now when she has a fly or mosquito problem, she gets it and uses it.

      1. Also tingles pretty good when you hit yourself or your friends with it. Some people also seem to really enjoy chasing flies around with it as well, works way better than a normal fly swatter.

  4. People who get are bit less are not as healthy as those that do. It’s the survival instinct created over time and common sense as well. Why suck on someone who will kill you?

    1. In my experience people who are less healthy get bit more. Would you want to attack a healthy animal that can easily swat you or one whos’ blood is full of sugar and cholesterol and probably doesn’t have the energy to raise a arm to swat at you?

  5. “unpleasant vibrations and shocks” are hardly the same as being swatted at by specific people. Did the test show that mosquitos avoided individuals who swatted at them more in favor of other humans who swatted at them less? No.

  6. With all of their think tanks which come up with experiments, why didn’t they invite me to their think tank where I would have suggested that mosquitoes prefer a certain blood TYPE. I don’t know what it is, that’s their job, to find out. So crack on, VA Tech.

    1. DDT saved millions if not billions of human lives. It nearly eradicated bedbugs. Now we go backwards to that itchy past…

      1. RIP Birds…

        Genocide against birds is probably not our best choice to avoid bugs, because the bugs get eaten by the birds.

    1. According to Dr. Scott J Vrzal, “Do mosquitoes like you? Planning to travel where bites are a concern? Malaria risk? If you don’t metabolize aldehydes (as in formaldehyde) you
      will smell fruity and therefore attractive to mosquitoes. This is
      typically a deficiency of thiamine. My favorite product is the whole
      food source in Cataplex B by Standard Process.” Forget Big Pharma.

    1. They males are a prime pollinator for many plants, they pollinate even more than bumblebees. No one talks about it but the males are a important part of many eco systems, and the females only drink blood to feed their babies.

      1. ” . . . feed their babies?”
        Jesus, you’re making me start to feel sorry for them.
        You must be a liberal.

  7. I wish they could have learned what it was about my dad. There wasn’t a bug made that would bite him. If someone could help us all duplicate that, the would make a mint.

    Though I do have a fairly good way to keep from being bitten. If I stand near my wife, they all go to her and leave me alone. For some reason, she does not appreciate that technique.

    1. It’s based on how good the blood tastes. They generally prefer people who are more out of shape id est people who put out more CO2. If you practice yogic breathing or exercise your body will naturally be better at CO2 exchanges.

  8. ‘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.’

    Pretty sure they call them the state bird because of size, not prevalence.

  9. Rachel Carson – the lead dog in getting DDT banned – should be remembered in history as one of the greatest mass murderers of the 20th century.

  10. And because B HOLE democrat LIAR eco-terrorists, we banned DDT, mosquitoes have killed MILLIONS of people around the world.


  11. The “authorities” who tell people to avoid mosquito bites by wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants have never been to Texas (my home state). The skeeters there will bite through denim.

    And the skeeter is the official mascot of Mesquite High School.

  12. been taking supplement Bcomplex for years. Have only had ONE mosquito bite in all that time. I can safely sit on my patio with NO OTHER mosquito protection.

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