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Mosquitoes can detect your breath from as far away as 150 feet!
The female mosquito can detect the carbon dioxide (CO2) that you exhale from a great distance. Carbon dioxide is the key signal to mosquitoes that a potential blood meal is nearby. Mosquitoes have developed a keen sensitivity to CO2 in the air. Once a female senses CO2 in the vicinity, she flies back and forth through the CO2 plume until she locates her victim.
Mosquitoes search for their bloodmeal using a variety of clues to track down humans, including our body heat and the carbon dioxide in our breath.
Mosquitoes have evolved to use a triple threat of visual, olfactory, and thermal cues to hone in on their human targets, according to a Caltech study. The study also determined that the mosquito smells “the CO2, then they leave the plume, and several seconds later they continue flying toward [the] object." [Floris van Breugel, a postdoctoral scholar in Dickinson's lab & 1st author of the study]
“We know that if you have an object in the presence of a CO2 plume—warm or cold—they will fly toward it because they see it. Only when the mosquito gets closer does it detect an object's thermal signature," van Breugel says. (See image below)
They hypothesize that from 10 to 54 yards away, a mosquito smells a host's CO2 plume. As it flies closer—to within 16 to 49 feet—it begins to see the host. Then, guided by visual cues that draw it even closer, the mosquito can sense the host's body heat. This occurs at a distance of less than a yard.
"Our experiments suggest that female mosquitoes [elegantly search] for food. They only pay attention to visual features AFTER they detect an odor that indicates the presence of a host nearby. This helps ensure that they don't waste their time investigating false targets like rocks and vegetation,” says Michael Dickinson, the principal investigator of the study.
"Even if it were possible to hold one's breath indefinitely, another human breathing nearby, or several [yards] upwind, would create a CO2 plume that could lead mosquitoes close enough to you that they may lock on to your visual signature.”
Sources: Mosquito Nix; npr; Para’ Kito; Caltech