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Why Are Some People More Prone To Mosquito Bites?

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And by "some people" I mean me. Why is it that an evening stroll leaves me feeling eaten alive while my companions are left blissfully un-bitten?

First of all, it's probably not all in my head (although it could be — most people are bad sources about their own mosquito attractiveness). Studies suggest that about 20 percent of people are "high attractor types" who are especially appealing to the female mosquitoes seeking out blood for the extra protein they need to lay eggs. Of course, not all mosquitoes are the same. There are 150 different species in the United States, each with their own blood-sucking proclivities. But since you probably won't know — or care — if the bugger biting you is Culex pipiens or Aedes aegypti, let's consider some of the more general properties that affect your mosquito appeal.

Clothing Color

It's true, mosquitoes have discerning fashion taste. Or at least, they're more likely to spot you as a target if you stand out from your environment. Dark colors, especially, will attract more of the insect.

Movement

Similarly, the more you move, the easier you are to identify as a living, breathing, vessel full of delicious blood.

Body Heat

Visual clues allow the mosquito to locate you from relatively far away, but as she approaches, it's your body heat that draws her in. This puts pregnant women, who average about 1.26 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than others, at a particular risk — a fact which has been substantiated by a number of studies.

Carbon Dioxide

This is another reason pregnant women are at a disadvantage. Mosquitoes can detect carbon dioxide using a special organ called a maxillary palp from as far as 164 feet away. Since everyone emits CO2 simply by exhaling, it comes down to relative amounts. Unfortunately for mothers-to-be, pregnancy causes women to emit 21 percent more CO2. This is also why kids are often safe from bites, when bigger, more CO2-emitting adults are around.

Alcohol Intake

On the flip side, pregnant women are (presumably) avoiding another mosquito attractor: alcohol. Although it's unclear how mosquitoes go about detecting the presence of ethanol, studies show that drinking even just 12 ounces of beer will significantly increase the attention you receive from the pests.

The Properties of Your Skin and Sweat

Up to 85 percent of your susceptibility to mosquito bites has nothing to do with what you're drinking or wearing — it's just genetic. Specifically, the composition of your skin bacteria — the kind that naturally and healthily exists there — can serve as an attractor. As can the levels of lactic acid, uric acid, ammonia, and other substances present in your sweat.

Blood Type

Another factor you can't control? Your blood type. And it stands to reason that, if the mosquito is there to suck your blood, she cares what kind she's getting. People with blood type O are more prone to mosquito bites than those with type B, with type A folks bringing up the rear.

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Big Questions
What's the Difference Between Vanilla and French Vanilla Ice Cream?
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While you’re browsing the ice cream aisle, you may find yourself wondering, “What’s so French about French vanilla?” The name may sound a little fancier than just plain ol’ “vanilla,” but it has nothing to do with the origin of the vanilla itself. (Vanilla is a tropical plant that grows near the equator.)

The difference comes down to eggs, as The Kitchn explains. You may have already noticed that French vanilla ice cream tends to have a slightly yellow coloring, while plain vanilla ice cream is more white. That’s because the base of French vanilla ice cream has egg yolks added to it.

The eggs give French vanilla ice cream both a smoother consistency and that subtle yellow color. The taste is a little richer and a little more complex than a regular vanilla, which is made with just milk and cream and is sometimes called “Philadelphia-style vanilla” ice cream.

In an interview with NPR’s All Things Considered in 2010—when Baskin-Robbins decided to eliminate French Vanilla from its ice cream lineup—ice cream industry consultant Bruce Tharp noted that French vanilla ice cream may date back to at least colonial times, when Thomas Jefferson and George Washington both used ice cream recipes that included egg yolks.

Jefferson likely acquired his taste for ice cream during the time he spent in France, and served it to his White House guests several times. His family’s ice cream recipe—which calls for six egg yolks per quart of cream—seems to have originated with his French butler.

But everyone already knew to trust the French with their dairy products, right?

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Big Questions
How Many Rings Does Saturn Have?
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Of all the planets surrounded by rings, Saturn is the most famous. These planetary rings are massive enough that Galileo was able to see them using a simple telescope way back in 1610, though it wasn't until half a century later that another scientist was able to figure out what the "arms" Galileo saw actually were. NASA has since called them "the most recognized characteristic of any world in our solar system."

So how many rings does Saturn have, anyway? If you can see them from your backyard, there must be a lot, right?

Scientists don't know for sure exactly how many rings Saturn has. There are eight main, named ring groups that stretch across 175,000 miles, but there are far more than eight rings. These systems are named with letters of the alphabet, in order of their discovery. (Astronomers have known about ring groups A, B, and C since the 17th century, while others are newer discoveries. (The most recent was just discovered in 2009.)

The rings we can see in images of the planet—even high-resolution images—aren't single rings, per se, but are in fact comprised of thousands of smaller ringlets and can differ a lot in appearance, showing irregular ripples, kinks, and spokes. The chunky particles of ice that make up Saturn's rings vary in size from as small as a speck of dust to as large as a mountain.

While the gaps between Saturn's rings are small, the 26-mile-wide Keeler Gap is large enough to contain multiple moons, albeit very small ones. The largest ring system—the one discovered in 2009—starts 3.7 million miles away from Saturn itself and its material extends another 7.4 million miles out, though it's nearly invisible without the help of an infrared camera.

Researchers are still discovering new rings as well as new insights into the features of Saturn's already-known ring systems. In the early 1980s, NASA's Voyager missions took the first high-resolution images of Saturn and its rings, revealing previously unknown kinks in one of the narrower rings, known as the F ring. In 1997, NASA sent the Cassini orbiter to continue the space agency's study of the ringed planet, leading to the discovery of new rings, so faint that they remained unknown until Cassini's arrival in 2006. Before Cassini is sent to burn up in Saturn's atmosphere in September 2017, it's taking 22 dives through the space between the planet and its rings, bringing back new, up-close revelations about the ring system before the spacecraft dives to its death.

Though it's certainly possible to see Saturn's rings without any fancy equipment, using a low-end telescope at your house, that doesn't mean you always can. It depends on the way the planet is tilted; if you're looking at the rings edge-on, they may look like a flat line or, depending on the magnification, you might not be able to see them at all. However, 2017 happens to be a good year to see the sixth planet, so you're in luck.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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