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Here’s Why You Are a Mosquito Magnet

Photo: David Sims.

Without getting all Black Mirror on you, the truth of the matter is that in addition to late-afternoon barbecues, sunset sails, and early-morning plunges into pools, summer also calls for a dark bride: the mosquito. And while the insects are commonly known to be hyperactive around dawn and dusk, Jonathan Day, professor of medical entomology at the University of Florida, admits there is a science behind some outdoor partygoers being more attractive to mosquitos than others. According to a recent study published by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, how many bites you get depends almost entirely on your genes. “The most recent discovery is that we know that [it’s] hereditary,” says Professor James Logan, head of the London department.

Since their findings, Logan and his team have embarked on what will be a three-year study of identical twins in order to isolate which genes are attractive to these bugs and which are not, with the hope that you will one day be able to take a pill to repel mosquitos, he says. What is known now is that your habits, the food you eat, or the perfume you wear do not play as large a role in mosquito attraction as one may think. Rather, female mosquitos, which are the ones that bite, are attracted to the scent of carbon dioxide, which all humans emit through their pores. “Female mosquitos have carbon dioxide receptors, which they use to tell where carbon dioxide is coming from and how close they are to it,” says Logan.

A secondary zeroing in occurs in the form of lactic acid, which is the by-product of muscle firing, or exercising. Often people who work out regularly emit more lactic acid, as well as people who have higher metabolic rates. And someone with a higher resting heart rate produces more carbon dioxide and more lactic acid, attracting even more mosquitos, says Day.

Call it the Goldilocks effect, neither too much or too little of anything is good, but light clothes (in fabric and in color) help—all the better to break out a crisp white summer sundress—as do repellants. Natural bug sprays, such as Mrs. White’s Unstung Hero, feature ingredients like lemon and citronella that irritate mosquitos that come in contact with them, causing the bugs to leave before if not during a bite. DEET, however, “makes mosquitos lose orientation,” says Day of the most effective ingredient for warding off mosquito bites—depending on your comfort level with using the chemical compound. Until the pill hits the market, or the hotly anticipated, nontoxicKite patch arrives—it supposedly makes its wearers completely invisible to summer pests!—all that can be said is: Happy camping!

This story originally appeared on Vogue.

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