CLOSE
iStock
iStock

Why Are Some People More Prone To Mosquito Bites?

iStock
iStock

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.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
Big Questions
Why Is Holly a Symbol of Christmas?
iStock
iStock

Santa Claus. A big ol’ red-and-white stocking hung by the fire. Nativity scenes. Most classic Christmas imagery is pretty self-explanatory. Then there’s the holly, genus Ilex, which found its way onto holiday cards through a more circuitous route. 

Christmas is kind of the new kid on the block as far as holly symbolism is concerned. The hardy plant’s ability to stay vibrant through the winter made it a natural choice for pre-Christian winter festivals. The Roman feast of Saturnalia, celebrated at the darkest time of the year, celebrated the god of agriculture, creation, and time, and the transition into sunshine and spring. Roman citizens festooned their houses with garlands of evergreens and tied cheery holly clippings to the gifts they exchanged.

The Celtic peoples of ancient Gaul saw great magic in the holly’s bright "berries" (technically drupes) and shiny leaves. They wore holly wreaths and sprigs to many sacred rites and festivals and viewed it as a form of protection from evil spirits. 

Christianity’s spread through what is now Europe was slow and complicated. It was hardly a one-shot, all-or-nothing takeover; few people are eager to give up their way of life. Instead, missionaries in many areas had more luck blending their messages with existing local traditions and beliefs. Holly and decorated trees were used symbolically by new Christians, just as they’d been used in their pagan days.

Today, some people associate the holly bush not with the story of Jesus’s birth but with his death, comparing the plant’s prickly leaves to a crown of thorns and the berries to drops of blood. 

But most people just enjoy it because it’s cheerful, picturesque, and riotously alive at a time when the rest of the world seems to be still and asleep.

NOTE: Holly is as poisonous as it is pretty. Please keep it away from your kids and pets.

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

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
holidays
What Are the 12 Days of Christmas?
iStock
iStock

Everyone knows to expect a partridge in a pear tree from your true love on the first day of Christmas ... But when is the first day of Christmas?

You'd think that the 12 days of Christmas would lead up to the big day—that's how countdowns work, as any year-end list would illustrate—but in Western Christianity, "Christmas" actually begins on December 25th and ends on January 5th. According to liturgy, the 12 days signify the time in between the birth of Christ and the night before Epiphany, which is the day the Magi visited bearing gifts. This is also called "Twelfth Night." (Epiphany is marked in most Western Christian traditions as happening on January 6th, and in some countries, the 12 days begin on December 26th.)

As for the ubiquitous song, it is said to be French in origin and was first printed in England in 1780. Rumors spread that it was a coded guide for Catholics who had to study their faith in secret in 16th-century England when Catholicism was against the law. According to the Christian Resource Institute, the legend is that "The 'true love' mentioned in the song is not an earthly suitor, but refers to God Himself. The 'me' who receives the presents refers to every baptized person who is part of the Christian Faith. Each of the 'days' represents some aspect of the Christian Faith that was important for children to learn."

In debunking that story, Snopes excerpted a 1998 email that lists what each object in the song supposedly symbolizes:

2 Turtle Doves = the Old and New Testaments
3 French Hens = Faith, Hope and Charity, the Theological Virtues
4 Calling Birds = the Four Gospels and/or the Four Evangelists
5 Golden Rings = the first Five Books of the Old Testament, the "Pentateuch", which gives the history of man's fall from grace.
6 Geese A-laying = the six days of creation
7 Swans A-swimming = the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the seven sacraments
8 Maids A-milking = the eight beatitudes
9 Ladies Dancing = the nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit
10 Lords A-leaping = the ten commandments
11 Pipers Piping = the eleven faithful apostles
12 Drummers Drumming = the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostle's Creed

There is pretty much no historical evidence pointing to the song's secret history, although the arguments for the legend are compelling. In all likelihood, the song's "code" was invented retroactively.

Hidden meaning or not, one thing is definitely certain: You have "The Twelve Days of Christmas" stuck in your head right now.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios