Alison Blanchard, of Rangi Ruru School, asks :-

Are mosquitos attracted to colour or to smell?

Simon Pollard, an entomologist at the Canterbury Museum, responded.

Female mosquitoes are the insect equivalent of tiny flying vampires in that they drink the blood of the living. However, unlike the mythical Count Dracula or a vampire bat, a mosquito uses the blood it has fed on to nourish the eggs developing within its body.

Male mosquitoes do not feed on blood, but may sip nectar or drink water during their brief adult lives. Although mosquitoes only want to take about a five millionth of a litre of our blood, they often leave us with an itchy irritating bite or, in many countries, a disease, like malaria.

Why are they so good at tracking us down? Mosquitoes have large compound eyes that can detect movement. And in the same way that we can close our eyes and still know if we are close to a warm heater, mosquitoes can detect the infrared radiation given off by our warm bodies. They can also detect the carbon dioxide and other chemicals we exhale as a waste product of respiration.

So, we really can't help but advertise our presence to mosquitoes who can pick up on these cues from up to 30 metres away. But we can defend ourselves by using chemicals to make our skin smell unattractive to mosquitoes or take cover under a mosquito net. Fortunately, in New Zealand mosquitoes do not carry any dangerous diseases like malaria.