Views / Citizen Scientist

How far can a mosquito chase me?

If you want to fend off those pesky bloodsuckers, your best bet is to keep moving

Almost better than bug spray: Continuous motion.

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Almost better than bug spray: Continuous motion.

Is the mosquito that buzzes around my head at beginning of walk the same one buzzing around me at end? What is the range of a typical mosquito? - Leona

This question is of particular interest to me. Last week I lost a conservative one-third of all the blood in my body to the hungry mosquitoes that inhabit Banff National Park. I came out of the bush looking like the last earthly victim of smallpox.

Like you, I noticed that as long as I kept moving, the mosquitoes largely let me be. So, what gives? I put the question to two mosquito experts.

Biochemist Gerardo Ulibarri said most mosquitoes live their whole lives within 300 to 400 metres of the pond where they hatched, although the range varies among the world’s 3,500 mosquito species (80 of which are in Canada).

“They detect you by the smell of your sweat. If you’re moving, that smell is going to dilute with the air. They’re not going to be able to follow you that much. Stand still, and they will find you right away,” Ulibarri said.

And before you get excited: It’s the oily type of sweat that mosquitoes like, so don’t try to hide from them by taking a shower – it’s not going to help, he said. 

Fiona Hunter, a mosquito biologist who heads up a lab at Brock University, cited a study that found one common species of mosquito can disperse around one kilometre per day, and perhaps as far as 12 kilometres eventually. However, other experiments found they fly shorter distances: between 89 metres and just under two kilometres in all.

Asked about a hypothetical three-kilometre hike, Hunter explained that mosquitoes get energy for flying not from blood, but carbohydrates they lap up from feeding on flower nectar.

Experiments have shown that a well-fed female (read:biting) mosquito can fly for 45 minutes. But in the wild, not all mosquitoes will have bellies full of nectar.

Bottom line: “The majority would not be accompanying you on your walk from start to finish.”

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