A recent study published in the journal iScience highlights the intriguing relationship between soap usage and mosquito attraction. The research indicates that certain soaps can either allure or repel mosquitoes based on the interplay between the soap and an individual’s distinctive body odor. The effects of soap on mosquito attraction were found to vary among people and different soap types, revealing the complex nature of personal body odors and soap’s chemical components.
Scientists from Virginia Tech investigated the phenomenon of why mosquitoes are drawn to some individuals while others remain unaffected. They discovered that specific types of soap could heighten mosquito attraction for some individuals, whereas other soaps had a deterrent effect. Notably, the impact of these soaps varied due to the interaction between the soaps and each person’s unique odor profile.
Senior author and neuroethologist, Clément Vinauger, expressed astonishment at the findings, stating, “It’s remarkable that the same individual, who is highly attractive to mosquitoes when unwashed, can become even more enticing to them with one soap, and then become repellent to mosquitoes with another soap.”
Humans have been using soaps and scented products since ancient times, altering our perception of each other’s body odor. However, the study questions whether these products also influence how mosquitoes perceive and differentiate between individuals as potential blood donors. Since mosquitoes primarily feed on plant nectar rather than blood, using soaps with plant-derived or plant-mimicking scents could potentially confuse their decision-making process.
To explore the relationship between soap usage and mosquito attractiveness, the researchers initially analyzed the chemical odors emitted by four human volunteers before and after using four soap brands—Dial, Dove, Native, and Simple Truth. The researchers also examined the odor profiles of the soaps themselves.
The study revealed that each volunteer emitted a unique odor profile, with varying levels of attractiveness to mosquitoes. Soap usage significantly altered these odor profiles, not only through the addition of floral fragrances but also by causing variations in the emission of compounds naturally produced by individuals.
The researchers then compared the attractiveness of each volunteer to Aedes aegypti mosquitoes before and after soap usage. Female mosquitoes, who feed on blood after mating, were exclusively tested. The researchers conducted mosquito preference trials using fabric that absorbed the volunteers’ odors, eliminating the effects of exhaled carbon dioxide, another significant cue for mosquitoes.
The study demonstrated that soap usage affected the mosquitoes’ preferences, but the extent and direction of this impact differed based on the soap types and individual volunteers. Washing with Dove and Simple Truth increased attractiveness for some volunteers, while Native soap tended to repel mosquitoes.
Vinauger emphasized the importance of specific chemical associations and combinations rather than the most abundant chemical for mosquitoes’ attraction or repulsion. Surprisingly, although all four soaps contained a known mosquito repellent called limonene, three of the tested soaps actually increased mosquitoes’ attraction.
To identify the ingredients that attract or repel mosquitoes, the researchers analyzed the chemical compositions of the different soaps in light of their impact on mosquito preference. They identified four chemicals associated with mosquito attraction and three chemicals associated with repulsion, including a coconut-scented compound found in American Bourbon and a floral compound used to treat scabies and lice. By creating and testing odor blends with these chemicals, the team confirmed their strong effects on mosquito preference.
The researchers plan to expand on these findings by studying more soap varieties and a larger sample size to identify general patterns or rules. Additionally, they aim to explore how soap affects mosquito preference over an extended period, including investigating whether a morning shower still influences mosquito behavior in the evening.
This study was supported by funding from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about mosquito attraction
What is the research about?
The research investigates the relationship between soap usage and mosquito attraction, examining how certain soaps can either attract or repel mosquitoes based on interactions with an individual’s body odor.
How do different soaps impact mosquito attraction?
The study found that different soaps have varied effects on mosquito attraction. Some soaps can make individuals more attractive to mosquitoes, while others have a repelling effect. The impact of soap on mosquito attraction depends on the unique odor profile of each person and the specific soap used.
Why do some people attract mosquitoes more than others?
The research suggests that personal body odor plays a significant role in attracting mosquitoes. Factors such as an individual’s physiological status, lifestyle, diet, and places they frequent can influence their odor profile and attractiveness to mosquitoes.
Can using certain soaps confuse mosquitoes’ decision-making?
Yes, using soaps with plant-derived or plant-mimicking scents may potentially confuse mosquitoes’ decision-making process. Since mosquitoes primarily feed on plant nectar, the introduction of such scents through soap usage could affect their ability to differentiate between humans as potential blood donors.
What chemicals in soaps attract or repel mosquitoes?
The study identified specific chemicals associated with mosquito attraction and repulsion in different soaps. For example, a coconut-scented compound found in American Bourbon was associated with mosquito repulsion, while a floral compound used to treat scabies and lice attracted mosquitoes. The ratios and combinations of these chemicals are crucial in determining whether mosquitoes are attracted or repelled.
Are there recommendations for soap usage to reduce mosquito attraction?
Based on the findings, the study suggests that using coconut-scented soap may help reduce mosquito attraction. However, further research is needed to establish general patterns or rules regarding soap usage and mosquito preference.
How will the research be expanded in the future?
The researchers plan to study more soap varieties and a larger sample size to identify broader patterns. They also aim to investigate the long-term impact of soap on mosquito preference to determine if morning showering still influences mosquito behavior in the evening.
More about mosquito attraction
- iScience Journal
- Virginia Tech
- Aedes aegypti mosquitoes
- USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture