Reality bites: Does eating bananas repel mosquitoes?

It was a lovely, balmy night. A couple of my friends were sitting outside enjoying a meal as the buttery sun began to set. Suddenly, I could feel something moving on my arm. I knew what it was straight away, and without a second thought WACK! With great satisfaction I looked at my arm: a squished insect and a smudge of blood, the little bug-ger got me already. I whined with disgust, mosquitoes always get me. My mate offered a friendly suggestion: “You should eat bananas, it repels mosquitoes.” Really? I wondered. Does it?

While I am more than happy to chug down bananas any day of the week, I’d rather not be under some impression that I’ll be saved from the wrath of the mossy, if it just ain’t true. After checking the facts about this myth – it seems that reality bites.

Meet the mossy

Our mini rival weighs about two milligrams. And while they are simply annoying little critters to the Western World, mosquitoes are responsible for millions of deaths worldwide. Their bite can carry lethal diseases, such as malaria, dengue, and West Nile encephalitis. Consequently, mosquitoes have been dubbed the world’s most dangerous animal.

Only female mosquitoes need blood because they use it to feed their eggs (mosquitoes’ mainly get their nutrients from plant nectar). As a result, it’s only female mosquitoes that are attracted to humans. Human attraction is also specific to different mosquito species, which is why in some areas of the world you might be a mossies favourite meal, but in other regions they glide right past you – ready to bite a neighbouring cow or donkey.

Why are mosquitoes attracted to humans?

It’s all in the nose. Mosquitoes use smell to find mates, food and blood meals. There are human-specific molecules on your body that give off a particular smell, and mossies can recognise them. These molecules waft through the air until they reach a mosquito, and bind to special receptors on its antennae. When this happens it begins a chemical change in the mosquito, activating their nervous system and alerting them to your presence. Now the mosquito knows who you are, and where you are. Any minute she’ll be on your skin, feeding on your arm.  So what are these human specific molecules?

There’s a lot. Carbon dioxide is on the list. IT’s one of the most universally recognized mosquito attractants and can draw in mosquitoes from up to 35 meters. Some compounds in sweat also attract mosquitoes to humans, as do lactic acid, body heat, and odours produced by skin bacteria.

What repels mosquitoes?

Since it’s smell that attracts mosquitoes to human, it’s also smells that repel mossies. Mosquito repellents that can be bought at the supermarket all work by interfere, directly or indirectly, with the mosquitoes’ sense of smell. Some repellents bind to those smelling receptors, which means they are blocked and can’t detect other human specific smells (kind of like a finger up your nose to stop you smelling).  Other repellents are just stinky, so the mosquitoes avoid the smell. The most effective, and popular repellent, DEET, might do both; scientists are still debating this one. But onto another debate – do bananas repel mossies?

 The Banana Myth

 Word on the streets is that eating bananas repels mosquitoes. But the myth isn’t consistent. Others say eating bananas attract mosquitoes. And others still say that it’s not bananas but vitamin B12, which is jam-packed into this fruit, that is making the mossies come our way.

According to the American Mosquito Control Association (a scientific/educational, not-for-profit service), it doesn’t matter what the myth is – they are all wrong. Vitamin B12 has no impact on mosquito biting, and nor does eating bananas. Dr Cameron Webb, an entomologist at Westmead Hospital’s Institute of Clinical Pathology and Medical Research agrees. He says eating vitamin B also won’t help the mossies get off your back.

But there is some new science giving this myth a leg to stand on. A study published in Nature magazine in 2009 from the University of California, noted that mosquitoes have very similar smelling receptors to the Drosophilia fly. And studies in the past have found that the drosophilia avoids smells from a certain chemical found in bananas (3-octanol). This chemical is also found in grapes and strawberries.  So, it’s possible that mossies might also be repelled by this chemical as well.

There’s more that needs to be studied. It’s not enough that the smell of bananas repels some mosquitoes – that smell has to waft out of our skin, or breath, or bum, when we eat it.

According to the American Mosquito Control Association, laboratory studies asking people to eat bananas have been conducted, and no repellent action has been found. The only problem is: I couldn’t find these studies! (Can you?)

Okay, so it looks like eating bananas probably won’t affect how attracted mosquitoes are to you. It’s your breath and sweat that is mainly alerting them to your presence. But there is a possibility that some chemicals in food will make a difference. In the meantime, while the experts keep searching for the conclusion, I’d pop on some good old fashion repellent. Just to make sure those mossie bites don’t make you go bananas.

More mosquito matters!

-          Why are some people more attractive to mosquitoes than others?

According to Webb, it’s not that people are more attractive to mosquitoes; it’s that some people have a stronger reaction to mosquito bites than others. The itchy red lump from a bite is our immune system reacting to the mosquito’s saliva, and some people have a smaller immune response to the mosquito salivas.

-          What’s the best repellent?

Recently investigators at New England Journal of Medicine compared 16 mosquito repellents, including (DEET), soybean oil, and citronella. They tested how effective they were by timing when the first bite took place – after people applied the repellents. Soybean oil was effective for 94.6 minutes. But DEET was best. Only after 112 minutes (almost two hours) was a person bitten when wearing a DEET-based repellent of 6.65% concentration.

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21 Responses to “Reality bites: Does eating bananas repel mosquitoes?”

  1. Mr. Chimps says:

    Thanks for the advice Wendy. So what you’re saying is, I’m better off smearing the banana on my arse, than eating it. I mean that’s what I’ve always done anyway, but it’s nice to finally have the science to back it up.

  2. Sally Casey says:

    Hi Wendy,
    You really do have a way with words and imparting information in an interesting way. I loved the article. I’m glad I don’t have to eat bags of bananas to repel mozzies I don’t mind eating one occasionally, but as a repellent you’d probably have to eat bags of them! I think RID seems to work!
    XX Sally

  3. Debbie says:

    but tell me Dr Wendy,
    is DEET a corrosive chemical thats not so great to use on a regular basis?

    nice article, you keep debunking all these things i thought i knew.
    xx
    debbie

    • Dan C says:

      Hi Debbie
      Up until a few years ago we use to be able to purchase Deet at 95% strength ( Canada ) now the strongest is either 26 or 32 I don’t think it is a custic but will melt anything like plastic or items with varnish.
      It’s still the best thing I’ve used for Mosquitoes and has been out since the mid 50′s unfortunately it doesn’t deter black flies which are just in season here ( mid May ) Cheers Dan.

  4. Thanks for sharing the interesting article.
    My mother has always told me to eat bananas to keep the mossies away, since I was a child.

  5. Pam says:

    I’m diabetic and for some reason, the mosquitos LOVE me!! It’s like I carry a neon sign that flashes, “Mosquito Buffet”! If I don’t eat sweets or tons of sugar, why are they attracted to me more than others?? When I get bitten, they don’t go away in a day or two they go away in a week or two!! I don’t get it!!

    • Hannah says:

      I’m diabetic as well and the same thing happens to me! They swell up so huge and even if I don’t scratch them it takes forever for them to go away! What is weird is that before we suspected I was diabetic, mosquitos didn’t affect me any worse than they did everyone else. I’m thinking there is some correlation!

    • Luis says:

      That’s nature’s way of telling you that you’re inferior. See, in the past, when medicine and vitamins weren’t available on every corner for free, inferior beings like yourself and Hannah there would easily die from your diseases, as nature was designed to weed you out so only the fittest survived.

      Unfortunately, modern medicine means that instead of dying at an early age from the diseases that mosquitoes carry or some other issue, you’ve been able to survive, and in some cases (like Hannah again), people like you have procreated and spread your weak genes into the world.

      But still, nature tries to do something to correct the balance by sending mosquitoes after you more frequently, in the hops that eventually, you’ll catch something and die.

      • James says:

        Luis! You stated that so well. I couldn’t have said it better myself! Such is life now, sadly….

      • Sian says:

        funny how the week and inferior beings are typically the ones that make large advances in society. we are a spices that Adapts, that’s why we have made it so far, that’s why we no longer have to live inferior lives like “the strongest survive” because we have adapted and evolved beyond that.

        Anyway, I’d blame diabetes on the government for overloading us on high fructose corn syrup.

        We have evolved beyond mere beasts that must compete to survive. =]

      • Grace says:

        Have you considered the fact that in times before medicine the mosquitoes were actually alerting people to their illness so that they might heal themselves rather than trying to destroy them? With your way of thinking maybe you should breed because you surely aren’t evolved.

  6. Pam says:

    And by the way, I soaked my skin in 40% DEET and I also sprayed it on my clothes, shoes, and hair. I STILL got bitten over 10 times while watching fireworks while my son and his fiance didn’t get a single bite!! Ugh! I got bit on my neck, arms legs and feet! I was wearing long sleeves and jeans too! They bit through jeans!! Those were some very determined bugs!

  7. spil spil and vinde says:

    Yes, this is the GOP primary in Ohio and the 9 other states.

  8. Amanda says:

    I have no idea why, but eating bananas definitely a tracked more mosquitoes to me than when I do not eat them. I believe in scientific studies, but if you were someone with the actual problem and get mauled by all bugs as much as I do, no scientific data would matter to you if your personal experience tells you otherwise. I will have to try using the banana for healing though.

  9. Mary says:

    Keep it real Luis. Pam and Hanna, don’t take it personally, but he is telling the truth.

  10. Sian says:

    normally when I eat banana’s they bite less, and I’m allergic, they swell up and I would know. Maybe I just smell like nanners

  11. Rachel says:

    I’d never heard of eating bananas to repell mosquitos, but I did recently come across a blog suggesting that you rub banana peel on your skin to heal and prevent acne. It’s only been 5 days so far, but that seems to be working. HOWEVER, I noticed that after only 3 days of applying the peel to my face at night, that I was outside not using any other repellant, for 45 minutes at dusk, no less, and only got 1 bite! The bite was on my heel/ankle area, which is furthest from my face, I noticed. I couldn’t believe it b/c I’m usually the first to get bitten, and I usually get bitten the most as well compared to others I’m around. Hope someone reads this!

  12. Bill says:

    I stopped eating bananas about 10 years ago and the mosquitoes stopped biting me. However this year they seem to like me more so maybe I should start eating bananas again???

  13. Paul R Buck says:

    This morning I was eating a strawberry, and I went to pick up another one. Low and behold, a mosquitoe was on it sucking away… So I video recorded it. Apparently this guy(gal) was attracted to the smell of the strawberry. I know I seen in your article about strawberries repelling them. Who knows it was a brown one mosquitoe don’t know if that classifies it as anything.

  14. Wendy, thanks for your time on a very important subject!

    Ten years ago, I was eating lots of natural foods, esp. garlic & working out more regularly… the little critters stayed clear of me & ate everyone else. Today, it’s quite different – the opposite! They seek me out, where I can even see them coming from a short distance in a straight flight path!

    No kidding, I am sincerely trying to figure what it was …or wasn’t. And will let YOU know.

    P.S. It was just two days ago, when twice, a mosquito flew straight toward me in a crowd! Whew!

  15. Eve Duncan says:

    I’m get savaged by Mozzies yet my partner doesn’t. Strange. A friend has told me to eat Vitamin B1 which I’m now trying. With regard to the banana idea I can tell you one thing for certain & that is the mozzie bite hurts a lot less if you rub it with the inside of a banana skin.
    To repel them I’ve used DEET but I find rubbing citronella on my skin works a lot better. And it’s far more natural than plastering yourself in chemicals. God know’s what the long term effect of that stuff is. They say it’s harmless but would you trust a USA corporation? I won’t.

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