Mid-September is a weird time of year for weather: not quite as brutally hot as the dog days of summer, but not yet time to dig out the fall sweaters, either. Where I live, it's still warm and humid, which means the mosquitoes are out in full force. And everywhere I look, including my classroom, kids are miserably scratching at the welts on their arms and legs. Some children seem to be more prone to mosquito bites than others, and scientists are finding that it's true: The pesky critters are most attracted to certain, um, "lucky" folks.
In the mosquito world, it's the girls who rule: Females are the only mosquitoes that bite, because they use a protein in human and animal blood to develop their eggs, according to the University of Florida entomology department. As the lady bloodsuckers feed, they release saliva into the skin that causes the familiar allergic reaction of itching and swelling. But mosquitoes are actually picky about the victims they choose; they're attracted to certain sights and smells more than to others. An estimated 20 percent of people are "high attractors" for mosquitoes, University of Florida medical entomology professor Jonathan Day told NBC News.
My family may be among them; my husband can get eaten alive just from 10 minutes in the yard, and one summer, my daughter's legs were so covered in scabs that she looked like an accident victim. If you're feeling my pain, read on to find out why some kids become the Catch of the Day on the mosquito menu.
They've Been Running Around
When you exercise outdoors or go out in the heat, your body temperature rises and you release lactic acid through your sweat. Female mosquitoes are attracted to warmer bodies and to the smell of lactic acid, according to Smithsonian, so your child is more likely to get bitten after a soccer match or a warm day in the playground. Other chemicals emitted through the skin are also appealing to the pests. Applying a mosquito repellent containing DEET or citronella oil before going outside will help; Day offered this helpful table of mosquito repellents according to their ingredients and length of protection time.
They're Just The Right (Blood) Type
In a small 2004 study published in the Journal of Entomology, scientists exposed men with varying blood types to mosquitoes and found that the insects landed on type O people far more often than those with type A, B, or AB. More research has to be done to prove a strong connection between blood type and mosquitoes, but if your kids are type O, you might want to be a little more diligent about applying the bug spray during skeeter season.
They're Wearing Red
In his NBC interview, entomologist Day explained that particularly in the late afternoon, skeeters hunt by sight, and mosquitoes look for people wearing dark colors like red or navy blue. (That could explain why you and your kids got bitten up on July 4.) Dressing your children in paler shades may make them less of a target.
They've Been Breathing Hard
When we exhale, we naturally emit carbon dioxide, a smell that also signals to mosquitoes that it's dinnertime. Entomologist John Edman, PhD, told WebMD that the pests can smell carbon dioxide from 50 meters away. Although larger adults give out more CO2 than small children, that doesn't make kids immune. The combination of sweat, body heat, and panting from an energetic game of tag is enough to send a mosquito over to your child for a snack.
They Have Smelly Feet
You might notice that your tot's ankles, calves and even toes get bitten especially hard when they're out in the grass. That's because research shows that mosquitoes are attracted to high levels of bacteria on the body, and our feet are an especially rich source of bacteria. According to the American Mosquito Control Association, mosquitoes love Limburger cheese, whose, um, rather pungent aroma is similar to foot odor.