You’ve heard it before, mosquitoes flocking around a single lightbulb and a bug zapper luring them in using a simple UV light. But how does it all work? Is the mosquito attracted to light? Do they see light like we do? Let’s find out.
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Just like most flying insects, mosquitoes have been speculated to use light for navigation. So what looks like “attraction” is actually the mosquito using the light to make sense of its environment and the direction it’s heading to.
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IFL Science explains this by pointing out that nighttime insects typically use what’s up in the sky to move from one place to another. They use the moon and the stars to know which direction to take, staying at a particular angle that’s relative to the natural light source. And since the moon and the stars are too far and massive for small creatures to see them moving, the insects keep the angle as they move along, eventually getting to places.
But something different happens when it comes to artificial lights like bulbs and candles. The insects can’t maintain the same angle they’ve been using because the light source changes its distance as it draws near.
So if a mosquito flies towards a lightbulb, it gets disoriented as it eventually reaches it. That’s also why it hovers and moves around it. In its confused state, it tries to keep the angle but ends up just flying in circles.
Yellow and red light don’t repel mosquitoes
There’s a myth that recommends using red and yellow light to repel mosquitoes. As wonderful and convenient it is to just switch to a differently colored lightbulb and be rid of all the mosquitoes in your home, this isn’t true.
What really happens is that the red or yellow bulb simply attracts less bugs than the white ones. You see, light is divided into different wavelengths, and insects sense a smaller band of these lengths compared to humans. So what looks like ordinary yellow light to us is actually a bit invisible to these insects. In other words, red and yellow incandescent bulbs don’t repel mosquitoes. They just make us less visible to them.
Mosquitoes hunt using multiple senses
When a mosquito can’t rely on its eyes. It has other highly functioning body parts and senses to cover for it.
Their antennae have sensitive receptors that can pick up even an odor’s most basic chemical. Armed with this, mosquitoes can “smell” the carbon dioxide that your breath and your skin expel. They can also trace our natural body odor which is generally composed of chemicals that are secreted by our glands and the kind of bacteria that live in us.
Another thing that mosquitoes can trace is our heat. These insects have a maxillary palpus, a sensory part that’s responsible for tracking body heat. They use this to pinpoint warmer spots on a mammal’s body, a spot where the skin is less deep and the capillaries are nearest to the skin.
The process on how mosquitoes hunt for blood is quite complex. But if you’d like to know more about this, go to our post here. For now, these are what you should know when it comes to mosquitoes and lights. In reality, they’re not really something that can fully protect you from these disease-carrying insects. So the next time someone asks, Is the mosquito attracted to light? Tell him that there are more effective ways to deal with his pest problem.