Another reason to hate mosquitoes: They like us when we smell good and when we smell bad.
Scientists in Kenya have discovered that these execrable little monsters are strongly attracted to, of all things, stinky socks. The odor of reeking human feet attracted four times as many mosquitoes as an un-stenchy human, said Dr. Fredros Okumu of the Ifakara Health Institute.
The research will be used to eliminate malaria-carrying insects in Africa, where a majority of the 800,000 people who die each year from the disease live. It has more practical, if mundane, use on these shores: Change footwear after mowing or jogging, don't leave the dirty-laundry basket outside and stock up on Odor Eaters.
But it's not just rank scents that lure the infernal blood-suckers, said Mike McLean, public information officer for the Metropolitan Mosquito Control District in St. Paul. Mosquitoes also love perfumes, which often are based on musky or floral aromas, or anything that "makes you smell like an animal or a fruity plant," he said.
The smells don't have to come from an added fragrance; often they're emanating from our bad selves.
"Your skin chemistry is one thing that draws them," McLean said. "Mosquitoes are a little picky. They have preferred hosts."
The semi-good news: "Only" about 15 of Minnesota's 51 mosquito species pay attention to humans.
The slightly better news: There are steps we can take to reduce the onset of these pains in the neck and other exposed body parts.
• Wear light-colored clothes, especially in the evening. "There's some evidence that they look for a dark shape around dusk," McLean said.
• Repellents that contain naphthalene, including the powder called Mosquito Beater, can be effective, especially on patios and decks. (Your lawn will not care for them.) Naphthalene is the active ingredient in mothballs, which explains why there were no mosquitoes in Grandma's cedar chest.
• Burning citronella can be helpful. "Some studies show that if you light a candle, you're going to get some effect," McLean said, "and if you light a citronella candle, you'll have a bigger effect. But not a huge effect. Basically, it works in places where there aren't many mosquitoes to begin with."
• Many avid campers suggest scent-free detergent, McLean said. "An unscented detergent is not a bad idea if you're spending a lot of time outside. The less odoriferous you can make yourself and your campsite, the better."
And now for the bad news:
For Minnesota's summer Public Enemy No. 1, the main attractant is carbon dioxide. All they need is the air that you breathe -- or, rather, exhale -- and they'll love you.
Gas masks, anyone?
Bill Ward • 612-673-7643