There are many great things about summer: sunshine, days spent at the beach or the pool, and the soothing feeling of less responsibility on your shoulders. But the warmer weather also brings its fair share of downsides, and one of those is the bugs that crawl out of their winter hiding spaces to terrorize us all — especially mosquitoes. These tiny creatures can wreak havoc on an otherwise lovely summer evening, buzzing in your ear and leaving you covered in itchy bites. To keep them at bay, you need to know as much about them as you can, and you shouldn’t believe everything you hear. There are actually a lot of mosquito myths being spread around, but we’re here to bust those for you — just in time for a Memorial Day weekend spent outdoors.
While you may not want to think about mosquitoes more than you have to, learning the truth behind these myths is worth your time. The CDC recently released a report saying that diseases spread by mosquitoes more than tripled from 2014 to 2016, and according to researchers, this is how diseases like Zika and West Nile spread so quickly.
The report is a reminder that these little bugs aren’t just obnoxious, they can also be legitimately dangerous. That’s more than enough reason to learn how to actually keep them away from you, so read on.
1Myth: Citronella candles will keep the mosquitoes away.
When trying to prevent mosquitoes from infiltrating an outdoor dinner party, most people will stock up on citronella candles. And though it’s true that citronella’s strong smell can be effective, these candles aren’t the best mosquito-repellent option.
Amy Lawhorne, vice president of Mosquito Squad, told HelloGiggles that citronella candles have a limited radius and won’t work if conditions are windy or if you’re in a large area. Because of this, these candles are best used in enclosed patios and other confined spaces. The CDC agrees — Harry Savage, a chief research entomologist at the CDC, told CNN, “To me, citronella only protects the candle.”
2Myth: Any over-the-counter repellent will do the trick.
There are so many mosquito sprays and repellents available out there, it can be overwhelming to choose one. And with all of the talk about how DEET (a pesticide that protects you from different kinds of bugs) is toxic to humans, you might feel pressured to buy an all-natural option. The truth is, if you want something effective, you can’t choose just any repellent out there. Lawhorne says that the best bug sprays contain DEET.
If you’re concerned about DEET, just know that the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has found that toxic effects are only possible if the pesticide isn’t used correctly, such as if it’s inhaled or ingested. Follow the label instructions, do not apply DEET products more often than recommended, and do not apply over cuts, wounds, or irritated skin.
3Myth: All mosquitoes bite.
If you’re worried about every single mosquito that crosses your path, you can relax a bit. According to Lawhorne, “Only female mosquitoes bite. They need the specific nutrients in blood to produce eggs. Male mosquitos only eat plant matter, and not people, so you’ll rarely see a male mosquito bothering you.” If you’re curious about how to tell the difference, male mosquitoes are typically smaller and appear fuzzier.
4Myth: Mosquitoes prefer people with “sweet” blood.
At some point, you’ve definitely heard someone say something like, “Oh, the mosquitoes are all over you because you’re so sweet!” It’s a nice compliment, but there’s no actual truth to it. The taste of your blood has nothing to do with why a mosquito is biting you. Lawhorne says that they are actually more attracted to the carbon dioxide in your breath and the odors you are releasing from sweat and other skin secretions.
You may have also heard that mosquitos are attracted to people with type O blood, perhaps because of a scientific study that found that people with type O blood were about twice as likely to be bitten than those with type A blood. However, a spokesperson for the CDC told CNN that this study was later refuted because of “bad evidence.”
5Myth: Pregnant women are more likely to get bitten.
In 2000, a study was published that found that mosquitoes prefer pregnant women. But Lawhorne points out that this study “included only 36 pregnant women and 36 non-pregnant women, and used mosquitoes native to Gambia, a small country in Africa.”
Here’s the truth: Those mosquitoes weren’t attracted to the women because they were pregnant, they were attracted to the smells the women were giving off. Lawhorne says that pregnant women give off more heat and carbon dioxide, both of which are attractive to mosquitoes. So basically, anyone who is hot, sweaty, and breathing heavily could be at risk just as much as a pregnant woman.
6Myth: Mosquitoes die after biting you.
When it comes to the fate of a mosquito after it bites you, a lot of people confuse them with bees and believe that they die after biting you. This definitely isn’t true. Lawhorne explains that after a female mosquito bites you, she goes off to lay eggs and then will eventually come back for more of your blood.
7Myth: Mosquitoes are attracted to specific foods.
Many believe that mosquitoes are attracted to certain kinds of foods, and also that they’re repelled by certain foods. You can continue to eat whatever you want, though, because this probably isn’t true. Joseph M. Conlon, a retired U.S. Navy entomologist and a technical adviser to the American Mosquito Control Association, told CNN that “nothing that you eat affects mosquitoes all that much.”
8Myth: Mosquitoes are not attracted to alcoholic beverages.
The above might not be true when it comes to alcoholic beverages. Lawhorne says that drinking beer or cocktails outside could make you more appealing to mosquitoes. One study in Burkina Faso found that beer consumption increased one’s attractiveness to mosquitoes, even going as far as calling beer a “risk factor for malaria.”
9Myth: You should be more worried about mosquito-related illnesses in countries outside the U.S.
For some reason, many people seem to believe that you don’t need to be worried about mosquitoes in the United States — because while they may be annoying, they aren’t carrying the threatening diseases mosquitoes carry in other countries. Sorry to burst any bubbles, but this isn’t true.
CNN points out that Asian tiger mosquitoes are commonly found in the U.S., and this species can carry dengue fever, yellow fever, chikungunya, dog heartworm, and West Nile. Malaria is also a concern in the U.S. No matter where you are, if there are mosquitoes around, you should be protecting yourself with bug spray.
Unless, of course, you live in Antarctica. As Lawhorne points out, there are no mosquitoes there.
10Myth: Only female mosquitoes make a buzzing sound.
You may have heard that only female mosquitoes make that telltale buzzing noise, but that’s not true. The buzzing is actually the sound of the mosquito’s wings beating together, and both males and females make the noise. The female mosquitoes make a higher-pitched sound than males, though.
11Myth: Mosquitoes only come out at dusk and dawn.
If you thought you were safe from mosquito bites during the day, you would be wrong. Mosquitoes do not feed only at dusk and dawn as many people believe. Although some species tend to feed at night, there are plenty that do so during the lighter hours, too. In fact, the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which transmits the Zika virus, is said to be most active during the day.
12Myth: You don’t need to stress over mosquitoes if you live in a dry climate.
You probably know that mosquitoes are attracted to standing water, as well as humid areas. That’s definitely true, and these bugs are absolutely more abundant in, say, a tropical rain forest than a desert. But that doesn’t mean they don’t exist in dry climates. Research has shown that mosquito populations increase with higher spring soil moisture levels, which can be caused by heavy snowmelt or spring rain. So if a “dry” area deals with snow melting or heavy precipitation, it can see an uptick in mosquitoes.
The takeaway from all of this? If you want to repel mosquitoes, stock up on bug spray made with DEET, skip the citronella candles, and shower off your sweat before going outside. Good luck out there.