Pesky Ankle-Biters: Why Do Mosquitoes Bite Feet and Ankles?

Every breath you take, every move you make … they’ll be watching you.

Do these lyrics hit a little differently when you’re out in nature, or even a few feet out from your front door? For many of us, mosquitoes sure add even more “Sting” to this song.

Mosquito biting person

If you feel downright stalked by these bloodsuckers, it’s likely because you are. Some of us are more attractive to mosquitoes than others, and it goes beyond blood type. No matter where it occurs, it bites to be bit, but fellow mosquito magnets also know that these pests tend to attack some of the most irritating areas—the ankles.

Spend a day – or even five minutes – outside and you may get a handful of itchy welts on your ankles and feet, but leave spotless everywhere else. Cover up all you want, but mosquitoes will manage to squeeze onto those tiny spaces of exposed skin between your leggings and socks.

Why must they hover so low … don’t they know they can fly? And what is it about ankles that mosquitoes love so much?

Researchers believe there are a few reasons why mosquitoes prefer the lower extremities over other parts of the body, but it all begins with our breath. Mosquitoes have hundreds of receptors within their antennae that detect a wide range of chemicals, including those humans emit when they exhale. To them, CO2 = delicious dinner.

These insects are initially attracted to the carbon dioxide released when we breathe (hence why some deep breathers may appear tastier than others), but once they’re close enough to scope out body odor, they head toward the more tantalizing scents. It’s all about the aromatic blend.

Various parts of the body permeate with different smells due to microorganisms that live on skin, which break down sweat and lead to other molecules that often carry quite a stink. This causes our toes to smell different than our faces (duh!), as higher numbers of bacteria live on feet.

Even if you are freshly showered or attempt to mask the smell, these creatures will sniff you out anyway. Mosquitoes are highly sensitive to smell and can work right through added fragrances.

Studies have found mosquitoes prefer the scents released by feet, but stinky feet is only part of the equation. Body temperature, specifically warmth, is likely one other factor that has them favoring feet.

Mosquitoes may also be smarter and sneakier than we think. Some researchers believe that because bugs are less likely to get swatted when they swarm the feet than when they are near other body parts, they are more likely to hang out around the ankles.

It seems mosquitoes have learned which parts of the body humans are likely to expose, and then adapted with the ability to identify those areas. That is why ankles are more attractive than shoulders, for instance. Even though armpits may give off a smell that is sweet to mosquitoes, this area is more likely to be covered than ankles. Not many of us (ok, well not all of us) are constantly doing the Renegade or Say So dances, even if we are on TikTok all the time.

Though all mosquitoes go for the goods around our feet, here’s one other not-so-fun fact: there are some specific mosquitoes that are known as the ultimate “ankle-biters.” Aedes, which is the aggressive, tropical, black and white species of mosquito, tends to feast on feet and ankles even more often than their commonly found southern counterparts. One of these is the Aedes aegypti, which is more likely to carry and spread viruses like yellow fever and Zika.

While most of the United States seems to be safe from mosquito-borne illnesses at the moment, our ankles will sadly continue to fall prey to mosquitoes. For now, continue to focus on mosquito protection in and around your home, wear thick socks and carry a Bug Bite Thing everywhere you go! Even if we can’t stop them in their tracks, we can at least offer ourselves post-bite relief by suctioning out their irritating saliva, which is now easier than ever with the new sleek black tool’s keyring holder.

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