June 17th, 2015
Spring is in the air (depending on what part of the world you are in) and that means the return of sleeping with the windows opened and the mosquitos who like to take advantage of that opportunity. No doubt we have all experienced it, that late night buzzing in your ear that startles you out of bed. Despite the fact that humans have all this other real estate that mosquitos could be biting and busy with, it always seems like all they want is to buzz in your ears and make you into an insomniac. While there is a lovely West African Tale about why this happens, lets aim for the more scientific explanation.
Surprisingly there are many layers to this answer. So let us begin with some mosquito basics:
Mosquitos are attracted by the smell of carbon dioxide, which we give off when we exhale. And of course, while you’re sleeping, that area around your face is chock full of yummy CO2. But that still doesn’t explain the ear fixation.
What we also know is that mosquitos are attracted to heat. While you are sleeping, a person’s ears actually get quite warm. But still, there are lots of other parts of the body that are warm while you sleep, so the answer isn’t quite that either.
In some corners of the internet and among amateur science enthusiasts there is a running theory that it has something to do with mating. Something along the lines of, the wax in your ears attracts specific mosquitos and somehow taps into their mating instinct so they mistakenly go for your ears. Again, not much science to back this theory, just another interesting angle to try out.
Perhaps the simplest and most well grounded theory is that they are actually not attracted to your ears. The ears just happen to be the place where you hear them the most as they are attracted to any exposed part of you while they sleep. In other words, mosquitos are so busy flying around your body while you sleep they are bound to pass by your ears to the point that you will think they are just hanging out in your ears to annoy you all night long.
Guess you can tell what kind of night I had.
Photo: SimonM / flickr