If you’ve ever visited Chincoteague State Park on Maryland’s eastern shore between April and October, you know about its mosquitoes. In fact, if you dare to venture into the park with exposed skin, at just about any time of day or night, they’ll darn near eat you alive. (The book Misty of Chincoteague brings tears to your eyes.)
But I’ve often wondered how so many mosquitoes seem to survive in remote, unpopulated areas like Chincoteague—if they constantly require blood?
Of course, we know they’re attracted to standing water. (Of which there is plenty on Maryland’s eastern shore.)
But mosquitoes are also attracted to plant nectar (much like bats, bees, birds, and butterflies). In fact, male mosquitoes rely only on nectar for nourishment. And only female mosquitoes occasionally partake in fresh blood meals. (They need the blood meal when it’s time to produce eggs.)
And now, researchers with the University of Washington recently began studying which floral scents, in particular, seem to attract these pesky bugs…
When only a certain scent will do
You may think of a scent as being a single chemical—corresponding, in this case, to a specific plant. But aromas actually result from complex combinations of chemicals.
For example, the scent of a rose, which I discussed in the February 2020 issue of my Insiders’ Cures monthly newsletter (“The Valentine’s Day secret that could help you live to 100—and beyond”), consists of more than 300 different essential plant oils. And it seems mosquitoes can detect individual chemicals that make up complex scents of flowering plants.
Which is actually quite amazing…
Consider this: Research labs use big, bulky instruments to identify chemicals in scent. Although, NASA “miniaturized” these tools for the Sky Lab and Space Shuttle projects. And, in the late 1970s, as a clinical applications chemist and toxicologist with McDonnell Douglas Aerospace Systems, I used the same mini-tools to detect the presence of therapeutic drugs and drugs of abuse in human blood.
So, when you think about it, mosquitoes are perhaps the ultimate example of this high-tech miniaturization. They carry all the equipment to identify different chemicals in scents right in their tiny antennae.
And it seems they’re especially drawn to chemicals found in orchids and lilacs. So make sure to avoid planting them around your outside seating areas!
Of course, lilacs are forever associated with the month of April. In fact, in the poem “The Wasteland,” T. S. Eliot wrote:
April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Like me, Eliot spent his childhood summers in the same little New England town of Gloucester. And, even that far north, the mosquitoes could be especially bad between April and August.
Natural ways to deter mosquitoes
The good news is, unlike lilacs and orchids, some plants actually repel mosquitoes as strongly as the chemical toxin DEET.
For example, citronella, eucalyptus, lemon, lemongrass, and peppermint all strongly repel mosquitoes…and other bugs.
So, consider planting some of them around your patio this spring. You can also apply their essential oils directly onto your clothing and skin to help keep these pesky bugs away.
Of course, if you do get bitten, several natural remedies can also help. Simply apply some apple cider vinegar or tea tree oil directly onto the bite. It will help counter the itching, redness, and swelling. Essential oils—such as eucalyptus, lavender and peppermint—can also help with itchiness. In addition, you can place a tea bag, honey or baking soda compress on larger bites for relief. And, if you have too many bites to count, try taking an oatmeal bath.
Whatever you do this spring, just don’t let these pests make you afraid to go out into Nature, which has many benefits for both mind and body, as I’m always telling you. Especially now, as we continue living in social isolation.
P.S. Did you know that many flowers are edible? Well, they are! Learn about all their health benefits in the March 2020 issue of my Insiders’ Cures newsletter (“Six flowers that can combat everything from obesity to anxiety”). Not yet a subscriber? No problem—it just takes one click.
P.P.S. This Sunday, April 26th at 3 PM (EST), I’m hosting a one-time-only Conquer Inflammation Summit. It covers everything you need to know about living a life free from chronic inflammation—and powering down disease in the body. But you need to click here now to reserve your spot for this live, uncensored event. See you there!
“The olfactory basis of orchid pollination by mosquitoes.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2020; 117 (1): 708. doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1910589117