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Is body paint a good insect repellent?

Many indigenous tribes with Australia, Africa and Papua New Guinea paint their entire bodies for culturally-significant reasons. In these places there are notorious problems with bloodsucking insects like mosquitos, like horseflies, ticks, and tsetse flies. A group pf researchers thought the two could be related and set out to find out for sure.

To do this, the team painted three life size mannequins in different patterns to see if it makes a difference to the amount of flies around it. One was painted a homogeneous dark brown, another with brown and white stripes (like a zebra) and the third was painted a light brown to mimic fairer skinned humans. They then covered the trio of mannequins in mouse glue trap which would trap any insects that landed on it.

They were then placed in a Hungarian field for testing. Every two days they would come to the site and remove all the trapped insects for counting. They did this with the mannequins standing upright, and laying both face down and face up on the ground. They tested each position for roughly two weeks.

After analysing the numbers, they found the fully brown painted mannequin attracted ten-times more horseflies when compared with the mannequin painted in stripes. The light beige mannequin attracted twice as many horseflies than the striped one. In a study published Wednesday in Royal Society Open Science, the authors concluded that “white-striped body paintings, such as those used by African and Australian people, may serve to deter horseflies.”