scents and insects (was: Tremex behaviour)

Ken Kinman kinman at HOTMAIL.COM
Thu Sep 5 22:42:06 CDT 2002

Dear Peter,
     That's interesting about the dragonfly laying an egg on your hand.  But
even people who don't use cologne or aftershave at all can get scents on
their hands, since the soaps dispensed in public restrooms are often heavily
scented (and the dragonfly did land on your "hand", not your arm or leg).
     Perhaps this could be a science project for some enterprising young
student.  Capture egg-laying dragonflies, and put them into a container with
identical pieces of wood (one washed with unscented soap as a "control", and
perhaps two or three others washed with two or three different scented
soaps).  With enough trials one might get statistically reliable results
indicating whether some or all the scents contain chemicals that might be
attractive to egg-laying dragonflies.
     And it would be interesting to know if mosquitoes, flies, or other
insects are attracted to various scented products (suntan lotions,
deodorants, shampoos, hair sprays and gels, and so on).  I don't know how
many times I've heard people (females in particular) commenting that insects
seem to single them out for attack (and perhaps adding a comment like "maybe
they are attracted to me because I'm sweet").  Sweetly scented perhaps?   Of
course, that is just anecdotal, but I think many scents may be causing a lot
more problems than we are aware of (especially the most complex mixtures
with musks and ... who knows what all they put in them these days)?
     Anyway, I think "biological" detective stories are among the most
interesting, because there are often so many more possible variables
involved.  And in the chemical cauldron of modern American consumerism, the
variables are extremely large in number, and the total numbers of possible
combinations just staggers the imagination.
               ------ Ken
>From: Peter Stevens <peter.stevens at MOBOT.ORG>
>Reply-To: Peter Stevens <peter.stevens at MOBOT.ORG>
>Subject: Re: Tremex behaviour & our behavior
>Date: Thu, 5 Sep 2002 07:12:21 -0400
>>      But let me suggest yet another possibility---as I brainstorm a
>>further.  With the perfume industry mixing hundreds or thousands of
>>different chemicals into their "seductive" formulas, and increasingly
>>various animal musks and pheromones, would it not be likely that humans
>>wearing such chemical concoctions (or the dogs, cats or horses which they
>>pet and groom) would be at increasing risk of becoming chemically
>>(positively or negatively) to various insects?
>>      I've always wondered if people who wear strong perfumes and
>>aftershaves might not be at greater risk of being stung by bees, bitten by
>>mosquitoes or ticks, or just bugged by insects in general.  For all we
>>the dog killed by all those bees might have been petted by an owner with
>>lots of aftershave or perfume on his/her hands.  With hundreds of
>>in such mixtures, one could have mimicked the distress chemical of bees.
>>Who knows, as it only takes tiny amounts (parts per million or even parts
>>per billion) to trigger reactions in the insects detecting them?
>To add information to this thread, a dragon fly laid an egg on the
>back of my hand as I was watching tadpoles/pollywogs in the school
>pond.  This was many years ago now, and I was not and am not a heavy
>user of perfumes, etc.  On the other hand, it was a very hot, dry
>summer, at least by England's standards.
>Peter S.

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