Are you an insect magnet?

Tuesday 7th July 2015

Have you ever wondered why you’re always covered in mosquito bites but your friends aren’t? Why you’re forever running from bees? Or why thick clouds of midges swarm around your head, no matter how fast you hike up that mountain!

insect magnet

With the summer months rolling on our wardrobes become brighter; from the latest floral prints and Hawaiian t-shirts to fluorescent sports clothes; colour is everywhere. This love is shared with many insects, in fact, way back in the 1860s Charles Darwin commented on how he was particularly curious about butterflies and “their alighting on the brightly coloured parts of ladies’ dresses”.



If you’re planning on visiting a butterfly garden make sure you wear reds, yellows and oranges. Butterflies are drawn to these colours, as the fittest males and sweetest nectar are associated with the brightest colours. While humans are trichromatic, having three photoreceptors within the eye, butterflies are pentachromatic, having five photoreceptors; they have one of the widest visual ranges on the earth. This means they are able to see a much wider spectrum of colours than us; while we can distinguish approximately one million discreet hues butterflies can distinguish about ten billion. Flowers have co-evolved with butterflies and often use colours we can’t see as ‘pollen guides’ to direct the butterflies.

Monarch butterfly

Monarch butterfly


Like us, bees are trichromatic. We base our colour combinations on red, blue and green, however bees base theirs on UV, blue and green. As with butterflies, flowers cash in on this and use displays of bright colours and UV patterns to attract the pollinators. Be careful when choosing your laundry detergent as some contain UV brighteners, this in combination with yellow and blue clothes will almost definitely send bees to buzzing your way.

Though yellows, blues and UV will attract bees, at least they will be happy bees thinking about nectar. If you wear dark colours bees may perceive you as a predator. Bees have adapted to avoid or act aggressively when aggravated near dark-coated animals such as bears and badgers so make sure they don’t mistake you for one!

So what colours can you wear? Stick to simple whites and pale pastels as these make you less visible to bees – bee keepers figured this out a long time ago!

photo from

Image courtesy of dan at


Pollen beetles 

If you’ve walked through a field of buttercups or daffodils recently you’ve probably spotted lots of tiny black beetles scattered across the petals. They feed on the pollen and when their numbers are too high act as a significant pest for crops such as rapeseed. Pollen beetles, like bees, love yellow. In fact, fans of Norwich City became covered in them when the team switched to wearing a brighter yellow kit.

Image credit:

Image credit:

The attractive nature of the colour is so great that scientists from Rothamsted suggest in the future fields could have borders of yellow flowers. The borders would act as ‘trap crops’ to prevent beetle infestation on crops of different colours on the inside of the fields.



For those of us who have high metabolisms, mosquitos can be a nightmare. The higher your metabolic rate, the more carbon dioxide you produce – an indicator used by mosquitos that there is blood nearby. Wearing the right clothes can help the situation. Stay away from dark colours, in particular navy blues. The texture of your clothes also has an impact. Mosquitos are attracted to low reflectance wavelengths, i.e. the brightness of an object created by light being reflected, absorbed or emitted. Our skin and that of other mammals and birds is highly textured and so has a low luminance reflectance.

As the luminanous reflectance of an object decreases so too does the number of mosquitos attracted to that object. This means glossy satins are less attractive than matt and khakhi clothes.


Horse flies and midges

As with mosquitos, horse flies and midges are attracted to dark moving objects. By wearing dark colours you run the risk of looking like their preferred prey; deer, cattle and horses. When in the mountains bright colours and white is therefore definitely the best choice. Unexpectedly, a study recently carried out by Hungarian and Swedish researchers suggests that maybe striped shirts are an even better way to go. They found that the coat of a zebra (black and white) attracted even fewer flies than white coats, while brown coats attracted the most. Stripes act as a sort of camouflage by making it more difficult to single out organisms from their surroundings. The thinner the stripes the better!

The thinner the stripes the more camouflaged you'll be.

The thinner the stripes the more camouflaged you’ll be.


So whether you’re hiking, sunbathing or flower picking chose you wardrobe carefully before you leave the house.

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