Now that summer is officially over, you may be cheering the good news: A change in seasons means cooler weather and no more mosquitoes, right? Not so fast. The heat and humidity have decided to stick around a bit longer, and coupled with massive flooding caused by Hurricane Florence, we’ve found ourselves with the perfect conditions for mosquito breeding.
Giant mosquitoes are plaguing North Carolina right now as a result of leftover floodwaters from the hurricane. This specific type of mosquito, known as gallinippers or shaggy-legged gallinippers, can grow to be three times larger than a typical mosquito. To combat these flying bloodsuckers, which North Carolinians are jokingly calling the new state bird, Governor Roy Cooper ordered that $4 million be allocated to controling mosquito populations in the 27 counties that are under a major disaster declaration.
Even if you’re not in the South, warm temperatures have made these pests a nationwide problem. Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to avoid mosquito bites. According to a February 2018 study published in the journal Current Biology, you can actually teach mosquitoes to avoid your scent — by swatting them. Though we probably don’t think of mosquitoes as quick learners, the researchers say mosquitoes can indeed learn to associate a specific odor with an unpleasant mechanical shock (being swatted). And if that specific odor is coming from you, they’re more likely to learn to avoid that scent the next time.
“Once mosquitoes learned odors in an aversive manner, those odors caused aversive responses on the same order as responses to DEET, which is one of the most effective mosquito repellents,” said researcher Jeffrey Riffell, PhD. “Moreover, mosquitoes remember the trained odors for days.”
Experts already knew that mosquitoes don’t choose people to bite at random. If you’ve ever had the misfortune to get lots of mosquito bites, you probably also know of some luckier folks who rarely ever get bitten. Mosquitoes definitely prefer certain scents over others — and they’re not shy about letting those preferred people know!
But it’s comforting to know that if you’re armed with the right repellent, along with some extra-skilled swatting hands, you can possibly have more success avoiding mosquito bites in the future.
“By understanding how mosquitoes are making decisions on whom to bite, and how learning influences those behaviors, we can better understand the genes and neuronal bases of the behaviors,” Dr. Riffell says. “This could lead to more effective tools for mosquito control.”
If you’re one of those unlucky “high-attractors” to whom mosquitoes seem to flock, you can find relief thanks to tea tree oil. This natural remedy for mosquito bites works by “[decreasing] the histamine release and [reducing] the swelling and itch,” according to Cynthia Bailey, MD, president and CEO of Advanced Skin Care and Dermatology in Sebastopol, California. Dr. Bailey recommends adding one drop of undiluted oil directly on the bite, or diluting the oil with equal parts coconut oil if you’re applying the mixture on a large patch of skin.