A bird species found in some parts of Western Alaska is believed to emit a natural mosquito repellent with properties similar to DEET, the key ingredient in many commercial repellents.
Hector Douglas, a University of Alaska Fairbanks researcher, said he made the discovery in the feathers of the crested auklet after applying a little scientific intuition and sacrificing some of his own blood.
"It's perhaps an example of how there are natural products in nature that have the potential to be utilized," Douglas said.
Clues to the crested auklet's unique ability to repel mosquitoes and pests like ticks and lice was apparent the first time Douglas encountered the creature, one of four auklet species in Alaska. He had been dropped at Kiska Island in the Aleutians to conduct research for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The birds feed en masse on zooplankton in the ocean and return as a group, 1 million strong. As they began landing, the first clue was right under his nose.