High School High School Biology and Chemistry TSS

Why do Mosquitoes like Limburger Cheese?

Mosquitoes are often attracted to the scent of Limburger cheese. Explore the factors that attract female mosquitoes to humans and which ones also attract them to limburger cheese.

Have you ever wondered what draws mosquitoes to humans? Could one of those things be drawing the small insects to Limburger cheese?

BACKGROUND

Mosquitoes are small insects that belong to a group of insects called Diptera. Although female mosquitoes are the ones that feed on blood, mosquitoes are generally seen as blood-sucking insects that come out during the summer. While male mosquitoes have a diet that consists of sugary substances such as fruit, female mosquitoes need to feed on blood for both their ovaries and eggs to fully develop. They do not only rely on human blood since they feed on the blood of other animals such as birds, lizards, and mammals (1).

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Image from freestockphotostore.com

HUMANS AND CHEESE — WHAT ATTRACTS MOSQUITOES?

Female mosquitoes use both their senses of sight and smell to find blood hosts. They are attracted to humans because of the scents that we give off. We emit chemicals through our skin and mouths that attract mosquitoes. Our skin often releases lactic acid when we eat particular foods and when we exercise. We also create body odor, which contains bacteria that mixes with sweat to create a “sweet” smell for mosquitoes.  Through our mouths, we exhale carbon dioxide and a mixture of uric acid, fatty acids, octanol, and lactic acid (2). Despite there being many sources of carbon dioxide in nature, the unique mixture that we create attracts mosquitoes. There are also other factors that attract mosquitoes (3).

Now, you may be wondering how any of these characteristics relate to cheese! Well, there is a type of cheese, called Limburger cheese, created in a way that causes it to give off a particular scent. Limburger cheese is created with the bacteria Brevibacterium epidermis(4). This bacteria is also found between our toes. There, it mixes with sweat to create foot odor. The bacteria need a moist and salty environment to grow. Since the places in-between our toes are sweaty, the bacteria grows there. Cheesemakers keep Limburger cheese nice and moist by washing it with water, which allows the bacteria to form. The bacteria only form on the surface of the cheese because it needs oxygen. When the bacteria feed on the proteins of the cheese, it produces evaporative fatty acid and a pungent smell. This smell attracts mosquitoes the same way our toes do. However, when mosquitoes approach the cheese and look for a vein, they are disappointed.

aroma-dish-meal-food-ingredient-breakfast-1158319-pxhere.com
Image from pxhere.com

So, despite the smell of a type of cheese being oddly similar to our feet odor, it is interesting how female mosquitoes are able to use their strong senses to single out blood hosts. Their senses may mislead them sometimes, but that is what helps humans create insect repellents and traps. Feel free to comment below on other foods that may attract female mosquitoes or repellents that can mask human odors!

References and Footnotes


    1. “Mosquitoes.” The Gale Encyclopedia of Science, edited by K. Lee Lerner and Brenda Wilmoth Lerner, 4th ed., vol. 4, Gale, 2008, pp. 2851-2853. Gale Virtual Reference Library, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/CX2830101538/GVRL?u=caro78187&sid=GVRL&xid=9ccaf9c.
    2. MOSQUITNO BAND. “Why Do Mosquitoes like Me More than Anyone Else?” Mosquitno, 2018, www.mosquitnoband.com/why-do-mosquitoes-like-me-more-than-anyone-else/.
    3. Scientists have found that people with different blood types give off different scents; mosquitoes are more drawn to people with type O blood. Mosquitoes are also drawn to people who secrete the compounds saccharides and antigens. These characteristics can make certain people more likely to be bitten by a mosquito. Pregnant people are more likely to attract mosquitoes as well. Pregnant and larger people often exhale more carbon dioxide which causes them to attract mosquitoes more. Factors such as body heat can also draw in mosquitoes.
    4. Inglis-Arkell, Esther. “The Extremely Gross Reason Why Limburger Cheese Attracts Mosquitoes.” io9, io9.Gizmodo.com, 16 Dec. 2015, io9.gizmodo.com/the-extremely-gross-reason-why-limburger-cheese-attract-1678436752.

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