Malaria Mosquitoes Follow Foot Smells


African Anopheles mosquitoes find us by our carbon dioxide–rich exhalation. But when they get close they turn away from our heads and dive for our feet—apparently their preferred snack spot.

Biologist Remco Suer believes he’s figured it the mosquito behavior, for his doctoral thesis at Wageningen University in the Netherlands. And the answer might help in the fight against malaria.

Previous research identified odors produced by 10 bacteria that live on human feet and that, in combination, are attractive to mosquitoes at close range. Suer's work shows that nine out of 10 of these odors are picked up by olfactory neurons under hairlike structures on the mosquitoes' mouthparts. Right nearby are some other key neurons—that recognize our CO2 from further away.

Written By: Cynthia Graber
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  1. That might go some way to explaining why I’ve had malaria twice………personal hygiene wasn’t even close to the top of the list when I got it!

  2. Some of the researchers were interviewed on CBC radio. A few other tidbits:

    1. Infection by malaria makes a mosquito three times more likely to bite.
    2. Infection by malaria makes a person more likely to be bitten.
    3. One of the hopes is to collect the optimal set of foot bacteria chemicals to make traps for mosquitoes.
    4. Orcas, particularly captive ones are prone to being bitten by mosquitoes carrying fatal diseases. UV exposure weakens their immune systems. They tend to hover just below the surface and get sunburned.

    When I was in Indonesia I was quite surprised how casual people were about mosquitoes. I was utterly paranoid, and never got even one welt.

  3. “They ain’t called mosquiTOES fer nothin’, you smartypants scientists!”

  4. “mosquito” is spelled at least 15 different ways in the journals of the Lewis & Clark expedition.

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