To avoid blood-sucking insects, paint your body

Forget bug spray, the latest research suggests body-painting offers effective protection against blood-sucking insects.

The mannequin painted black with white stripes attracted the fewest blood-sucking insects. Photo by Lund University
The mannequin painted black with white stripes attracted the fewest blood-sucking insects. Photo by Lund University

The new study, published this week in the journal Royal Society Open Science, confirms what many indigenous groups realized long ago. Body painting among indigenous people is more common in areas where horseflies, mosquitoes and tsetse flies are present.
Researchers at Lund University used a series of human mannequins to test the effects of body paint on the behavior of blood-sucking insects. The plain brown plastic model attracted ten times more horseflies than the model painted black with white stripes. The beige model attracted twice as many blood-suckers.

“Body-painting began long before humans started to wear clothes. There are archaeological finds that include markings on the walls of caves where Neanderthals lived,” Susanne Akesson, professor in the biology department at at Lund University in Sweden, said in a news release. “They suggest that they had been body-painted with earth pigments such as ochre.”

helped researchers track the number of blood-suckers attracted to the three models.

Scientists also tested whether the models’ positioning affected their allure. Models standing up attracted more females, while models lying down attracted both sexes.

“These results are in line with previous experiments in which we showed that males gravitate towards water in order to drink and land on surfaces that reflect horizontal, linear polarized light, such as signals from a water surface,” Akesson said. “Females that bite and suck blood from host animals respond to the same signals as the males, but also to light signals from in the vertical plane, such as the standing models.”

ByBrooks Hays