Can mosquitoes remember what you smell like and if you’ve swatted at them?

Posted at 12:00 AM, May 19, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-21 23:30:37-04

BLACKSBURG, Va. - The old adage that some people get more mosquito bites because of how sweet they are may just have some truth to it after all.

Research done by scientists at Virginia Tech University shows that mosquitoes not only remember human smells, but also swats.

Dr. Clément Vinauger, an assistant professor of biochemistry in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and Dr. Chloé Lahondère, a research assistant professor in the Department of Biochemistry, published a study in the journal Current Biology that shows mosquitoes can rapidly learn and remember the smells of hosts.

"This whole project started by this observation that we are not equal to mosquitoes, right? Some people do get bitten more than others and we are trying to understand why," Dr. Vinauger explained.

The study proved that even if someone is good-smelling to a mosquito, their preference can switch if that person's smell is associated with an unpleasant sensation.

"If a mosquito tries to bite you and you are super defensive, it has the possibility and capability of learning, memorizing that, and then on the next blood meal opportunity it will avoid you because it remembers you as someone who is defensive," Dr. Vinauger told News 3 anchor Todd Corillo.

"What we found is that once the mosquitoes learned this association between the odor and the shock they were avoiding the odor and going only to the clean air," Dr. Lahondère explained about their research.

The research on these tiny insects could have big implications for public health, including the viruses that various mosquito species can be vectors for including Zika, yellow fever, and West Nile.

"We need to invent new tools and design new strategies. Before that we need to better understand how they do what they do and it’s only by understanding the biology of the mosquito and how do they become such efficient disease vectors that we can invent new solutions to control them," Dr. Vinauger said.

Drs. Vinauger and Lahondère are both affiliated with Virginia Tech's Fralin Life Science Institute, which supports vector-borne disease research as a major thrust area.