How These Four Colors May Help You Avoid Mosquito Bites

Mosquitoes are pretty unavoidable in the summer, but can color help fight these buzzing pests? Here's what a team of researchers say.

Mosquitoes are constant, irritating companions in warm weather. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could deter mosquitoes with what we wear? Well, we may be able to. A team of researchers studied how the yellow fever mosquito (Aedes aegypti) responds to color, and it turns out mosquitoes prefer some colors and are turned off by others. This color preference, however, only exists in the presence of carbon dioxide (CO2), which we exhale when we breathe.

Lead study author Jeff Riffell says: “One of the most common questions I’m asked is ‘What can I do to stop mosquitoes from biting me?'” According to the study findings, color shows remarkable potential to help in the fight, both in clothing and in developing new mosquito-fighting technologies.

What colors attract mosquitoes?

Mosquitoes in the study loved red, orange, black and cyan, which is the color between green and blue on the visible light spectrum. How did they measure this? Researchers built a sophisticated test chamber and filled it with regular filtered air (and mosquitoes). Then they pumped in CO2 and recorded mosquito reactions to colored objects placed within the test chamber.

Here are the big winners, from the mosquitoes’ perspective.

Red

Red was a huge hit with the mosquitoes, so it won’t surprise you to learn that our skin gives off a red hue. It doesn’t matter what skin tone or shade, either. To a mosquito, everyone looks like a tasty red treat.

Orange

Mosquitoes responded to long-wavelength colors, and like red, orange fits the bill. When researchers used filters to remove long-wavelength colors from the chamber, mosquitoes weren’t interested, even when tested with human hands.

Black

Black is a well-known mosquito magnet. Mosquitoes are drawn to dark colors and high contrast. In 1940, researchers demonstrated that mosquitoes can follow a black line on a white background, even if the background is moving. Black doesn’t have a wavelength because technically it’s not a color, but it absorbs heat, which mosquitoes love.

Cyan

Mosquitoes flew right to the cyan object in the study, even though on the visible light spectrum, cyan is between blue and green, which mosquitoes showed no preference for. But mosquitoes’ ability to discern between similar colors shows promise for further research.

One place you won’t see mosquitoes? Disney World—here’s why.

What colors repel mosquitoes?

Mosquitoes in the study did not like blue, green, violet and white. While the results are promising, it’s unlikely that wearing these colors as a stand-alone defense is sufficient to avoid bites this summer, says David Price, ACE, director of technical services at Mosquito Joe. You can wear insect repellent to mask the CO2 and other odors our bodies give off.

Here are colors mosquitoes avoid.

Blue

Blue was unpopular with mosquitoes in the study, although how dark the color is plays a part. Navy blue, for example, absorbs heat, which attracts mosquitoes. Wear lighter shades to reflect heat, says Price.

Green

Researchers confirmed results of the color experiments by offering the bugs human hands held outside of the chamber but visible to the mosquitoes. Mosquitoes showed interest in bare hands, but when the researchers wore green gloves mosquitoes flew right on by.

Violet

Violet has the shortest wavelength of any color on the visible light spectrum, so it’s not surprising that mosquitoes didn’t care for it, given their love of the long-wavelength red and orange hues of our skin.

White

White was the control object, which means researchers paired every color in the test chamber with a white object for comparison. Even with CO2 in the test chamber, mosquitoes avoided the white object when faced with colors they preferred.

More ways to prevent mosquito bites

Price says these tips will help reduce mosquito populations.

  • Regularly empty standing water from flower pots, birdbaths, fountains and anywhere else water tends to collect.
  • Drill holes in tire swings, trash cans and recycling bins to allow water to drain. Check gutters for clogs.
  • Repair leaky outdoor faucets, as mosquitoes lay eggs in water.
  • Cut grass short, trim shrubs and keep lawns weed-free. Mosquitoes like to rest in shady spots.
  • Use a fan when gathering outside on your patio. Mosquitoes aren’t strong flyers and don’t like the air movement.
  • Don’t overwater your lawn, and fill in any low areas where water can pool.

And if mosquitoes are still driving you crazy this summer, contact a professional to assess your property and get those buzzing beasts under control. Next, check out the Amazon gem that helps stop itching and irritation from mosquito bites: The Bug Bite Thing.

Sources:

  • Nature.com: “The olfactory gating of visual preferences to human skin and visible spectra in mosquitoes”
  • University of Washington: “Mosquitoes are seeing red: Why new findings about their vision could help you hide from these disease vectors”
  • NASA: “Visible Light”
  • David Price, ACE, director of technical services at Mosquito Joe

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Ally Childress
Ally Childress is a licensed electrician and freelance writer living in Dallas, Texas.