By Kimberley Collins 28/12/2015


It’s summer, which means we’re all scratching at our legs and ankles in an attempt to relieve the constant itch of mosquito bites.

But how much do you actually know about these flying vampires? These 8 facts might help distract you from the chronic itching…

Only female mosquitoes suck your blood.

Footage captured by the Pasteur Institute in Paris shows a mosquito piercing a blood vessel.
Footage captured by the Pasteur Institute in Paris shows a mosquito piercing a blood vessel.

Mosquitoes usually feed on fruit and nectar but females need the protein from blood to help her eggs develop.

She uses a long mouthpart called the proboscis to pierce your skin – one tube draws blood while the other injects saliva containing painkillers and anti-coagulants to thin the blood. It’s a dexterous organ and can almost bend at right angles to probe between cells in search of blood vessels.

Mosquitoes prefer Type O blood.

Some blood types are more tasty to mosquitoes than others. One study found mosquitos in a controlled environment land on people with Type O blood nearly twice as often as those with Type A, while those with Type B blood were somewhere in the middle.

You could also try holding your breath to avoid them…

Scientists have found that the air we breathe can attract more mosquitoes. They use an organ called the maxillary palp to locate their victims by smelling for carbon dioxide. People who are larger will exhale more of the gas over time and attract more mosquitoes than others.

Being delicious to mosquitoes may be in your genes anyway.

Research at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine compared identical and non-identical twins and found that identical twins were more likely to be bitten. This suggests a genetic factor determines how attractive we are to mosquitoes.

Mosquitoes can drink 3 times their weight in blood. 

A mosquito’s abdomen can expand to hold three times its own weight in blood.

A mosquito gorges on blood.

But don’t get too worried – it would take about 1.2 million successful bites from a mosquito to drain all the blood from your body.

We’re allergic to mosquitoes.

We have a mild allergic reaction to mosquito saliva, which triggers the release of histamines.  These play a major role in many allergic reactions by dilating blood vessels and making their walls more permeable – allowing them to attack pathogens.

Anti-histamines provide relief.

Mosquito bites will stop itching after 24 – 48 hours, but if it gets too much to bear, head down to your local pharmacy and pick up some antihistamine cream or take an antihistamine pill.

Hot spoons supposedly stop the itching too.

If you can’t get to a pharmacy, try holding a hot spoon to your bite. While most people agree this trick works, there’s a bit of discussion on the reason behind it.

According to this paper, the immunoglobulins in a mosquito’s saliva (that cause swelling & itching) will denature at around 60°C. But it’s probably not safe to expose your skin to that temperature. I mean, which would you rather have – third-degree burns or an itchy bite?

The other suggestion is that pain-nerve receptors, which cause the itching in the first place, go along the same pathways as pain-heat receptors. Putting a hot spoon on your bite overloads the heat receptors, which makes your body ignore the itching. It’s basically a distraction method.

 


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