As well as a nice tan this summer, you can safely bet your skin will also be riddled with bites by the season’s vampire: the mosquito.

Maybe you’ll get lucky and avoid weeks of itchiness, or maybe you’ve already accepted defeat in the fact that you seem to be a natural magnet for mozzies – could it really be possible?

Dr Julia Kasper, Te Papa’s lead invertebrate curator, says this is a question that has been bugging people “for decades, and lots of research has been done and is still underway.”

“We know that mosquitoes are attracted to multiple cues and that they have an extremely sensitive and complex sense of smell,” Kasper says.

“They are attracted to carbon dioxide, as this tells them that there is a breathing host. They are also attracted to other chemicals in our breath, such as octanol.”

She says the latest research shows the major attractant for mosquitoes to choose a host can be found in sebum, an oily substance naturally produced by the body’s sebaceous glands to protect and hydrate the skin.

Sebum contains large molecules known as carboxylic acids which, produced in excess, can cause an odour, enhanced by beneficial bacteria on the skin.

“Multiple compounds have been analysed that make our sebum attractive, yet we don’t know how to control or change the composition on our skin,” Kasper says.

“One would think that diet and hormones would change it, but a study showed that the same people remained a ‘mosquito magnet’ over 5 years, with little variation in their sebum composition.”

Microbiologist and self-confessed mosquito magnet Siouxsie Wiles wrote of a study for Stuff, which found levels of three certain carboxylic acids have a large effect on your attractiveness to mozzies.

“After testing more than 60 people, they found that their mozzie magnets produced significantly higher levels of three carboxylic acids – pentadecanoic​, heptadecanoic​ and nonadecanoic​ acids – as well as another 10 similar compounds they couldn’t identify,” Wiles wrote in an email to Stuff.

“Previous studies have shown that the bacteria that live on us – our microbiome – contribute to the compounds found on our skin. The bacteria can make compounds themselves or make enzymes that break down the oily substances our skin secretes. What this latest study shows is that our skin microbiome probably contributes to what makes us attractive – or not – to mozzies.”

The colours you wear might play a part in attracting the mozzies too: Kasper says mosquitoes prefer darker colours, which absorb and trap heat, while lighter colours reflect it.

She says a mosquito bite can strike anywhere on the body. However, areas where the skin is thinner and blood vessels are closer are preferred, because “why make it difficult if it can be easy?”

Some may have heard the old wives’ tale that cigarette smokers are naturally less attractive to mosquitoes.

Kasper says its true that cigarettes have a repellent effect on mosquitoes, but your best bet for protection will always be the trusty can of DEET.

“There are hundreds of anecdotal remedies,” she adds, “with different qualities.”

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