Are mosquitoes attracted to colors?

Summer is a fantastic time to enjoy the outdoors and connect with nature. Unfortunately, in many parts of the world, it’s also when mosquitoes are most active. This means getting snacked-on while you’re trying to enjoy being outside, and itchy bites later on. Because of all that unpleasantness, people will go to great lengths to avoid mosquitoes. Beyond bug sprays and long sleeves, some people say that you should avoid certain colors or shades of clothing to not end up a target. But is that true? Are mosquitoes attracted to certain colors? Let’s find out in this Naturalist Answers post.

Light and Dark

People often tell me not to wear dark colors outdoors because they attract mosquitoes. I always end up wondering if that’s true or just an urban legend. Fascinatingly, some of the earliest research on mosquito vision showed that they will move toward dark colors. Furthermore, mosquitoes seem to cue in not just on dark colors, but more so on contrast. In other words, they prefer colors or shades that differ strongly from the background. This seems to help them pick out their target—an animal to bite.

Following their nose

Mosquitoes cue in on carbon dioxide that their prey exhales as it breathes. Until they smell carbon dioxide, they don’t use their eyes to look for animals to bite.

Speaking of which, how do mosquitoes know to start looking for prey? If they just tried to bite every high-contrast object they came across, they wouldn’t do so well. Researchers in Washington and California found that mosquitoes started to look for visual signs of prey once they “smelled” CO2. That is, when they detect higher concentrations of carbon dioxide in the air, mosquitoes go on the lookout. The presence of a “plume” or cloud or CO2 stimulates them to start looking for high-contrast objects in the direction of the CO2. Because animals expel CO2 constantly as they breathe, sniffing out clouds of CO2 is a great way for mosquitoes to find us. But what about specific hues of color? Are mosquitoes attracted to any specific colors?

Colors that attract mosquitoes

This image shows the visual spectrum, the range of colors that human eyes can perceive as we look at light of different wavelengths. The two boxes show colors that mosquitoes cue in on when they’re looking for prey. You should avoid red, orange, and cyan-colored clothes if you don’t want to be getting extra attention.

Surprisingly, no one had really been able to answer this question until quite recently. However, a 2022 study in Nature Communications shed some cool insight onto this topic. Using 3D tracking technology and different types of colorblind mosquitoes, researchers found clues as to which colors attract them.

Specifically, they found that long-wavelength colors, namely red and orange, were attractive to mosquitoes. Strangely, one exception to this was that cyan or turquoise also got the bloodsuckers’ attention. In addition, they found, as other studies have in the past, that dark colors were also a draw.

While it’s harder to explain why turquoise is attractive, human skin reflects a lot of light in orange and red wavelengths. This means that mosquitoes’ vision cues in specifically on colors it associated with people and their yummy blood. Creepy much?

Avoid these colors to attract fewer mosquitoes

Dark colors like these hikers’ shorts, or red like their shirts, are more likely to attract mosquitoes’ attention when they sense us nearby.

All right, so let’s get to the bottom line here. Looking over the cutting-edge science of mosquito behavior and vision, we have learned a few things:

  • Mosquitoes seek out visual targets once they sense carbon dioxide
  • They seek out high contrast objects with respect to background shades
  • This often means darker colors against lighter surroundings
  • Mosquitoes are more attracted to red, orange, cyan, and black hues

What does this mean for our outdoor fashion sense? Well, there’s not much that we can do about breathing out CO2. So we’ll ignore that one. As for background shades and contrast, wearing lighter colors does in fact seem to be a good move. So try to avoid any goth looks when you go on an outdoor adventure, even if your soul is a black abyss. Plus, wearing black will make it uncomfortable when you go in the sun!

Choose these colors to be less attractive to mosquitoes

Lighter shades and greens are less likely to give us away to mosquitoes if they’re searching for a bite.

When choosing colors, look for the colors that mosquitoes tend to ignore. Dark purples, dark blues, light yellows, and most shades of green. Green is an especially good move, since it will contrast less with your surroundings during summertime.

Choose lighter shaded clothing, soft blues, or colors that blend in with your surroundings to be less obvious to mosquitoes.

To sum things up: wear lighter shades, and choose green or light Earthtone colors first, or else deep blues and purples.

Thanks for reading!

What’s your anti-mosquito fashion look like? Share with us in the comments! If you have other questions for which you’d like some Naturalist Answers, drop me a line on the Contact page. Until next time!