The crested auklet (photo credit: Hector Douglas), a seabird located north in Alaska, may hold the key for repelling ticks and mosquitoes, as efficiently as current synthetic bug repellents. A researcher, Hector Douglas, a student at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, spent time studying the auklet’s years ago. He noticed that the birds smelled like a “citrus grove” when they passed him by.
Eventually, Mr. Douglas was led to do research on the birds, and the specific odor they produced. The scent of chemicals found in the crested auklet’s odor was composed of aldehydes. To reproduce this scent as a potential bug repellent, Douglas used a combination of synthetic chemicals. Two tests were conducted using lice and mosquitoes.
In the first test with lice, a can was stuck on a record player. The record player provided movement, and the can was heated to simulate the human body. When the can contained none of the synthetic bug deterrent, the lice would cover the can. When the repellent was added, the lice would stay away.
The second test was done with a very aggressive species of mosquito, Aedes aegypti, the yellow fever mosquito. Douglas placed his hand in a cage full of female mosquitoes. He covered his hand with filter paper, and mosquitoes would swarm his hand. When the mosquito repellent was added, the similar scent of the crested auklet repelled mosquitoes up to a range of 99 percent effectiveness. These very impressive results are similar to the effects DEET has on mosquitoes. Results of these tests were published in the Journal of Medical Entomology. More tests and safety precautions must be taken before this repellent can be used commercially however.
It seems that while our purpose for the crested auklet’s scent is to find a better mosquito repellent, their’s is more primal. The bird uses this citrus smelling scent in courtship.