One of those perennial questions is why some people seem to be bitten to pieces and others remain unscathed. Differences in body odors may account for some of the variations, said Laurence Zwiebel, a professor of biological sciences at Vanderbilt University. But some people are simply less allergic to the bites.
"They don't get the rashes or the swelling other people get," he said. "They may be getting bit, but they just don't know it."
A team from Yale University, Vanderbilt University and institutions in the Netherlands, Gambia and Tanzania are beginning a five-year project to come up with an effective mosquito repellent.
Professor Zwiebel, who is working on the project, said the idea was to use what the team has discovered about the mosquito's smelling system to develop an effective and inexpensive repellent.
"It's a daunting task," he said. "I've spent the last 15 years thinking about this extraordinarily evolved animal that is very, very good at what she does. We are trying to listen to what the mosquito is telling us."
One thing the mosquito seems to be doing is laughing at many of the gadgets people are installing to keep the bugs away. These range from backyard misting systems to bug zappers to ultrasonic devices. So far, according to the nonprofit American Mosquito Control Association, these products have caught a lot more consumers than mosquitoes.
Bug Zappers, which are black light electrocution systems, are pretty ineffective, according to the association's Web site, www.mosquito.org.
Studies have found that there was no significant difference in the number of mosquitoes found in yards with or without bug zappers.
Ultrasonic devices, which are supposed to control the bugs in an environmentally safe way, have proved in many studies to have "no repellency value whatsoever," the association said.
At the very high end of the market are devices designed to trap or kill mosquitoes. They are complicated machines that need to be maintained, and the American Mosquito Control Association said, "Their potential is great, but shouldn't be overestimated."
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