A well known way to have a rest of mosquitoes during camping is to stand in the fire's smoke. Moreover, I learned recently that shepherds in certain regions of Africa use the same tactic for cattle. They make smoky fires and cattle gathers in smoke to get rid of mosquitoes.

Why humans and cattle can stand smoke, but mosquitoes can't? Does this technique work for other kinds of insects?

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Remember mosquitoes have very sensitive CO2 sensors. They track their prey using CO2, and smoke has lots of CO2 which makes mosquitoes blind, I presume. $\endgroup$ – Memming Jan 9 '13 at 13:35
  • $\begingroup$ Sorry but mosquitoes aren't attracted towards the smoke. This is because they get attracted toward Carbon Di Oxide $\endgroup$ – Saharsh Jan 11 '13 at 17:32

There is little hard evidence on whether smoke acts as a mosquitoe repellent. A literature review done by the WHO (Biran et al, 2008) on smoke and malaria show that evidence is mixed, at least when it comes to long term protection and protection from blood meals from firewood smoke. Their review also notes that few scientific studies have been done on the topic, and they report results from one experimental and a couple of observational studies. However, they do note that burning particular plant materials (based on traditionally used plants) may be effective (see e.g. Pålsson & Jaenson. 1999).

These results also doesn't preclude that very heavy, temporary, smoke may be effective to get rid of mosquitoes ("... during camping is to stand in the fire's smoke...") - that this can be effective is certainly my personal experience as well.

  • $\begingroup$ I imagine almost all insects would be repelled by direct signs of active fire. $\endgroup$ – John Apr 3 '17 at 17:34

Mosquitoes have olfactory receptors. Certain chemicals acts as repellent. See this wikipedia page for an explanation about insects repellent mechanism.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Can you possibly elaborate on the mechanism? And the linked page doesn't even contain any information about smoke or its constituents. $\endgroup$ – LanceLafontaine Jan 10 '13 at 16:09
  • $\begingroup$ citronella oil page on wikipedia here says : Consists of geraniol (18-20%), limonene (9-11%), methyl isoeugenol (7-11%), citronellol (6-8%), and citronellal (5-15%) for one type and Consists of citronellal (32-45%), geraniol (11-13%), geranyl acetate (3-8%), limonene (1-4%) for an other. The mechanism can be elaborated by following the cited sources like [number 9 for example](link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs00018-011-0745-z]() $\endgroup$ – user1254498 Jan 10 '13 at 16:52

Mosquitoes aren't actually repelled by smoke. They are repelled by burning citronella oil. Citronella contains certain chemicals that naturally repel the dengue fever mosquito.

  • $\begingroup$ that's a probable mechanism, but not the reason. Why are they repelled by citronella oil? $\endgroup$ – Yrogirg Jan 10 '13 at 4:19

All insects have a mortal fear of smoke because it is a harbinger of flames and flames - for an insect - means instant death. They have no mechanisms at all that are capable of regulating their body temperature sufficiently to survive direct flames.


Consider a population of mosquitoes (or any flying insect for that matter) that successfully develops a smoke-avoidance response. In an environment where forest fires are common and smoke is therefore a clear precursor - would this population have a better chance of survival than another that does not? I think you could only answer yes.

It merely remains to prove that it is possible for a population I have described to develop. Well - the presence of this question on this board proves that it is possible. I realize this is a slightly weird form of proof by induction but you have to admit it works.

Sorry - no references or citations - just a "because evolution".

  • $\begingroup$ Is there any scientific evidence to back up this claim? It's plausible, but "fear" is a bit of a stretch. $\endgroup$ – jonsca Jan 12 '13 at 19:37
  • $\begingroup$ Less "fear" - more "death follows swiftly". Kinda like "I smell almonds ... should I drink this or put it down?" $\endgroup$ – OldCurmudgeon Jan 12 '13 at 21:16
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, but you (or the cyanide drinker) have more than just a couple of ganglia strung together and a lifetime of experience (i.e., would someone not knowing the fact about that odor actually be repulsed by it). Anyway, again, like I said, a plausible explanation, but evidence always helps. $\endgroup$ – jonsca Jan 12 '13 at 21:25
  • $\begingroup$ Perhaps my additions will help. $\endgroup$ – OldCurmudgeon Jan 13 '13 at 1:04
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Lots of species of insects are attracted by fire and smoke (forest fires), since their larvae develop in burned wood, e.g. the longhorn beetle [Acmaeops marginatus ](cerambyx.uochb.cz/margin.htm) $\endgroup$ – fileunderwater Jun 10 '14 at 21:38

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.