Kids are prone to asking deceptively complicated scientific questions, and you need to be prepared with a simple, concise answer or risk ending up like Louis CK after his daughter asked why it was raining in a pit of existential despair. Our series, Why Is The Sky Blue? poses just these sorts of questions to vastly overqualified experts who will help you settle your kid’s curiosity before it gets out of control. First up, scientific journalist and Malaria expert Sonia Shah, whose book The Fever taught her more than any sane person wants to know about mosquitoes.
Your Kid’s Questions
Why do mosquitoes bite?
Only the mom mosquitoes bite, and the reason is they need just a tiny bit of blood to feed their babies. You have plenty of blood and you’re just sharing a little with the mom. The mosquito doesn’t want you to notice the bite because it doesn’t want to get slapped, so she has medicine in her spit that numbs your skin. You don’t usually feel the bite until after she’s bitten you and flown away. Then, your body reacts, which is why there’s a bump. Some mosquitoes will bite anything just like some kids will eat everything.
Everyone smells different, and a mosquito can tell the difference between how my breath and your breath smells, or how my feet and your feet smell.
Why do they bite some people more than others?
Mosquitoes have very specific tastes, just like some kids like pizza but not hot dogs, and they can smell what they like. Everyone smells different, and a mosquito can tell the difference between how my breath and your breath smells, or how my feet and your feet smell. They also like different temperatures, so maybe they like your temperature better than your friend’s temperature. Some mosquitoes only bite dogs or birds because those smell better to them. And some mosquitoes will bite anything just like some kids will eat everything.
Can’t we just get rid of all the mosquitoes?
People have tried, but it’s difficult because just like any animal, mosquitos want to live. They’ve very smart, they come up with ways to survive and they’ve survived a really long time, so we have to learn to live with them. Besides, if we did get rid of all the mosquitos, who knows what would move into where they used to live – it might be a different bug that’s even worse.
What’s the best way to prevent mosquito bites?
I live in Baltimore, where it’s very humid, and we’re near a stream so we live near a lot of them. We wear light long sleeve shirts and pants, and I treat the clothing with permethrin, which you can buy online and which lasts a few laundry cycles. I like it better than DEET because it’s not on your skin. Permethrin is considered safe for kids by the National Pesticide Information Center, but if you’re looking for explicitly kid-friendly bug sprays, check out the exhaustive roundup by the moms at Mother Magazine.