Mosquitoes eat flower nectar, not blood
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Mosquitoes eat flower nectar, not blood

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Scent of a woman

Out of the 3,000 mosquito species known to humans only the females bite us. The blood they suck is food for their eggs, not them. Instead, mosquitoes eat nectar from flowers.

Not all flowers attract mosquitoes. They respond to different scents.

"We often describe 'scent' as if it's one thing — like the scent of a flower, or the scent of a person," said Jeffrey Riffell, a professor of biology at the University of Washington who is studying the insects. "Scent is actually a complex combination of chemicals — the scent of a rose consists of more than 300 — and mosquitoes can detect the individual types of chemicals that make up a scent."

This helps explain why some people are more attractive to mosquitoes than others. We all smell different. My wife gets bit much more than I do. I always joke that it’s because she is Italian, and mosquitoes prefer Italian food.

"Human scent is very complex, and what is probably important for attracting or repelling mosquitoes is the ratio of particular chemicals,” Riffell said. “We know that some people get bit more than others, and maybe a difference in ratio explains why."

Scientists like Riffell are trying to understand what smells attract and scare away mosquitoes in hopes of finding a repellent that is more natural than some of the ones currently sold, like DEET. Good repellents are important because mosquitoes carry diseases like malaria. The diseases mosquitoes spread kill millions of people every year.

On the plus side, mosquitoes provide food for bats and birds, fish and frogs. Some anglers even tie tiny flies that imitate mosquitoes to catch fish.

— Brett French, french@billingsgazette.com

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