MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Now we have some surprising news about these critters.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOSQUITO BUZZING)
KELLY: Mosquitoes - scientists have found you can actually teach mosquitoes to avoid you. NPR's Michaeleen Doucleff explains.
MICHAELEEN DOUCLEFF, BYLINE: Human skin is a cornucopia of fragrances. Jim Riffell (ph) at the University of Washington says we emit more than 200 odor chemicals from our skin. One common chemical actually smells quite nice.
JEFF RIFFELL: It smells kind of like grassy and a little bit mushroomy (ph).
DOUCLEFF: Others - not so much.
RIFFELL: They smell pretty funky.
DOUCLEFF: Like an overripe brie cheese or a musty basement. But mosquitoes don't care if we're stinky. They love human smells. Mosquitoes actually learn human odors and then seek them out. In fact, scientists think it's your unique mixture of odors that determines how many mosquito bites you get. Some people's perfume is just irresistible.
RIFFELL: Yeah, I mean, that's what we found. Some people are super attractors, and some people are actually not attractive at all. And the mosquitoes will avoid them.
DOUCLEFF: Now Riffell says he has come up with a way to teach mosquitoes to hate your smell so they leave you alone. The key...
RIFFELL: Swat them.
DOUCLEFF: Swat them. Just wave your hands and arms all around the buggers. You don't even need to touch them. Riffell has found that mosquitoes hate vibrations. It makes them feel uncomfortable. So when you swat them, the critters start to associate this uncomfortable feeling with your own unique odor.
RIFFELL: Mosquitoes can learn whether or not you are trying to swat them. Then they will pretty much avoid you thereafter.
DOUCLEFF: So swatting in a way puts up a shield around you, making you invisible kind of like the Romulan cloaking device in Star Trek.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "STAR TREK")
LEONARD NIMOY: (As Spock) The cloaking device is working perfectly, and the commander has informed me that even the Romulan sensors cannot track a vessel so equipped.
DOUCLEFF: You can read all about this new cloaking device in the journal Current Biology. Marten Edwards, a biologist at Muhlenberg College, says the study was so convincing he's changing how he acts towards mosquitoes.
MARTEN EDWARDS: Well, I'm certainly going to slap at mosquitoes more now than I did before, and I'm going to feel OK if I miss because I know that I've taught the mosquito something important.
DOUCLEFF: That if the critter comes near Edwards, she could get - bam - smashed. Michaeleen Doucleff, NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.