Enjoying your garden in the summer months may mean you need some protective clothing (trousers, long-sleeve shirt) and some repellent. Not the most agreeable way to go out on a hot summer’s evening! But necessary to save you from being eaten alive by mosquitoes.
Even when you think you are well protected, you find mosquito bites on your feet and ankles. Perhaps you forgot to cover your feet, or is there another reason mosquitoes seem to love this part of your body.
Do Mosquitoes Like Smelly Feet?
According to research, it seems that mosquitoes are attracted to certain odors. Smelly feet are one odor they like.
It’s only the female mosquitoes that are enticed to bite you. They need the protein in the blood to develop their eggs.
Aedes aegypti (the yellow fever mosquito) and Aedes albopictus (the Asian tiger mosquito) are two species responsible for ankle-biting. The invasive Aedes mosquito species are vectors for several diseases – West Nile virus, dengue fever, Zika virus, chikungunya, and yellow fever. They bite all day, not just at dusk and dawn.
What Attracts Mosquitoes?
Let’s see how a mosquito finds you and might arrive at your feet.
A female mosquito is flying about when she comes across a cloud of carbon dioxide. She detects the CO2 with receptors and knows that either a human or an animal is in the vicinity. She follows the plume of carbon dioxide. As she approaches you, her receptors start to pick up odors emitted by your skin and body heat.
She uses these odors to choose the best place to bite. Research from 25 years ago suggests the mozzies might prefer the head and feet due to a combination of temperature and sweat glands.
The odors are produced by bacteria in your skin and smelly chemicals in your sweat. These odors let the mosquito know you are a human and not an animal. They also indicate to the mosquito the best place to bite. Different places on your body produce different odors – your feet don’t smell the same as under your arms or your ears.
Why do mosquitoes choose your feet or ankles over other parts of your body, such as your armpits?
There could possibly be a few reasons.
- The microorganisms on your skin break down our sweat and emit smelly molecules. Mosquitoes like the smelly molecules on our feet.
- Researchers think that overtime, mosquitoes have figured out which parts of your body are likely to be exposed and ignored. Feet and ankles fall into this category. With their distinctive odors, they are easy to find.
- The mozzies may have evolved to know they have less chance of being swatted down on your feet or ankles.
Mosquito Olfactory System, or Sense Of Smell
Mosquitoes rely on their olfactory system for many vital functions – For finding food (nectar), finding an egg-laying site, and of course, for finding a human for a blood meal.
Odors are detected by two pairs of organs, the antennae, and the maxillary palp. These organs are covered by tiny hairs or sensilla. The antenna contains the largest number of sensilla; the maxillary is much less complex.
The antenna detects body odors and maxillary palp CO2 and body odors.
As mentioned in this research, CO2 alone isn’t enough to attract mosquitoes. They also need the odors from the skin.
How Do Repellents Help?
Repellents deter mosquitoes by their taste and smell. They confuse the insects by jamming their odor receptors. Even if they land on your arm with deet or picaridin applied, they should quickly fly off.
As strange as it may seem, mosquitoes can taste deet or other repellents with their feet. Research carried out in 2019 shows that the taste organs in the mosquito’s legs can make the mosquito fly off after landing on skin covered with repellent.
The Centers for Disease and Prevention recommend six different repellents that are registered with the Environmental Protection Agency.
How To Avoid Mosquito Bites On Your Feet
The best way to avoid bites on your feet and ankles is to make sure they are well covered, which means long trousers and thick socks.
If there is any bare skin, be sure to use a repellent. You shouldn’t apply repellents under clothing and always follow the label instructions.
Don’t wear clothing made from very light fabric and is tight-fitting. The mosquitoes will be able to bite through it.
It’s a good idea to tuck your trousers into your socks to ensure there are no gaps around the ankle area.
Mosquitoes also seem more attracted to dark-colored clothing. Light colors may also help to reduce the chances of you getting bitten.
For extra protection, you can use clothes treated with mosquito repellents.
I hope you now understand why mosquitoes bite your feet or ankles. There are three main reasons:
- the distinctive odor of your feet makes them attractive and easy to find
- they have less chance of getting slapped
- you may forget to cover up these parts of your body
Regardless of where they might bite, mosquitoes pose a serious threat of transmitting disease. So it’s better to take precautions and cover up or apply a repellent.
Of course, your first step should be to remove any standing water on your property. This will eliminate breeding sites. If possible, encourage your neighbors to do the same.