“Go hang a chicken” sounds like an insult or a sexual euphemism but it may soon be the accepted, cheap, loud and smelly way to prevent malaria and other mosquito-borne diseases. A new study found that mosquitoes don’t bite chickens and seem to be repelled by their odor. Should you invite a rooster to your next picnic?
The Malaria Journal published the results of tests conducted by Rickard Ignell of the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and his team in three villages in Ethiopia. Their original intent was to find what smells attract local mosquitoes (Anopheles arabiensis) in order to recommend dietary changes as a possible way for people to avoid being bitten and contracting malaria. They took blood samples from humans and from domestic animals raised for food, such as cattle, goats, sheep and chickens. Then they collected the blood in mosquitoes captured both inside and outside of residences in the villages and analyzed them to determine what each mosquito bit.
If you bet on humans, you win. Indoor mosquitoes fed on mostly humans while outdoor ones fed on both humans and livestock. The surprise was that almost none of them contained chicken blood. They next collected fur, hair, wool and feathers and placed them or compounds made from them in traps to see which attracted the skeeters best. At the end of this 11-day test, the traps with feathers or chicken odors were nearly empty. As a final confirmation, they placed a live chicken in a cage next to the other less-efficient traps and it kept the mosquitoes away effectively.
Professor Ignell described the unique repellent qualities of chicken odors that the team discovered:
The difference between this repellent and ones on the market is it acts on a very large scale. Most repellents only work after a mosquito lands on you but we know that this can cut populations by up to 95 per cent throughout an entire house, so it’s very efficient. It really creates an odor bubble which stops the mosquitoes coming near, so it can stop the spread of malaria.
Throw in the fact that chickens eat mosquitoes and it sounds like we have a winner in the mosquito repellent and malaria prevention contest.
So, should residents of malaria zones and frequent picnickers go hang a chicken? Unfortunately, that’s the only alternative for now until a chicken odor repellent is developed, says Ignell. He will also be researching whether chickens can help keep away Aedes aegypti, the mosquitoes that spread the Zika virus.
Oh, and the chicken hanging in the cage needs to be live, not dead, roasted or fried. And mosquitoes aren’t fooled by rubber chickens either.