Why Mosquitoes Evolved to Like Us

Humans weren't a part of the mosquito's diet thousands of years ago, and researchers have isolated the genes to prove it.

Why Mosquitoes Evolved to Like Us

You may be surprised to hear that mosquitoes didn't always rely on human blood for nourishment—they evolved to sniff out your scent not too long ago (by evolutionary standards). Steve Connor of The Independent wrote on the recent study that explains how the parasite transitioned thousands of years ago from furry mammals to us.


Researchers have found 14 genes in the mosquito genome that are directly linked to a love of human blood and odor. One particular receptor, Or4, is highly active in mosquitoes with a taste for humans. This receptor is able to pick up unique chemical vapors our skin releases. Researchers were able to isolate the chemical sulcatone as one of the scents that attracts the bugs when we step a foot outside our door. Mosquitoes learned to recognize this smell and knew they were near a food source.

The study noted there was a divergence in the evolutionary line that exists today in Rabai, Kenya where one set of black-bodied mosquitoes that feed on furry forest animals have no preference for the sulcatone smell. But brown-bodied mosquitoes that inhabit villages in Africa are quite receptive to the stuff. These two subspecies live just hundreds of meters apart.

Leslie Vosshall of Rockefeller University in New York, led the study that was published in the journal Nature. She explained why the mosquitoes adapted to humans as a food source all those years ago:

“It was a really good evolutionary move. We provide the ideal lifestyle for mosquitoes. We always have water around for them to breed in, we are hairless and we live in large groups.”

“There’s a whole suite of things that mosquitoes have to change about their lifestyle to live around humans. This paper provides the first genetic insight into what happened thousands of years ago when some mosquitoes made this switch.”

Read more at The Independent

Photo Credit: mycteria/Shutterstock

‘Designer baby’ book trilogy explores the moral dilemmas humans may soon create

How would the ability to genetically customize children change society? Sci-fi author Eugene Clark explores the future on our horizon in Volume I of the "Genetic Pressure" series.

Surprising Science
  • A new sci-fi book series called "Genetic Pressure" explores the scientific and moral implications of a world with a burgeoning designer baby industry.
  • It's currently illegal to implant genetically edited human embryos in most nations, but designer babies may someday become widespread.
  • While gene-editing technology could help humans eliminate genetic diseases, some in the scientific community fear it may also usher in a new era of eugenics.
Keep reading Show less

Massive 'Darth Vader' isopod found lurking in the Indian Ocean

The father of all giant sea bugs was recently discovered off the coast of Java.

A close up of Bathynomus raksasa

SJADE 2018
Surprising Science
  • A new species of isopod with a resemblance to a certain Sith lord was just discovered.
  • It is the first known giant isopod from the Indian Ocean.
  • The finding extends the list of giant isopods even further.
Keep reading Show less

These are the world’s greatest threats in 2021

We look back at a year ravaged by a global pandemic, economic downturn, political turmoil and the ever-worsening climate crisis.

Luis Ascui/Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs

Billions are at risk of missing out on the digital leap forward, as growing disparities challenge the social fabric.

Keep reading Show less

Columbia study finds new way to extract energy from black holes

A new study explains how a chaotic region just outside a black hole's event horizon might provide a virtually endless supply of energy.

Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center
Surprising Science
  • In 1969, the physicist Roger Penrose first proposed a way in which it might be possible to extract energy from a black hole.
  • A new study builds upon similar ideas to describe how chaotic magnetic activity in the ergosphere of a black hole may produce vast amounts of energy, which could potentially be harvested.
  • The findings suggest that, in the very distant future, it may be possible for a civilization to survive by harnessing the energy of a black hole rather than a star.
Keep reading Show less
Mind & Brain

A psychiatric diagnosis can be more than an unkind ‘label’

A popular and longstanding wave of thought in psychology and psychotherapy is that diagnosis is not relevant for practitioners in those fields.

Scroll down to load more…
Quantcast