Keeping a chicken can help protect against malaria
Keeping a chicken by your side could provide protection against malaria, research has shown.
Scientists have discovered that the malaria-carrying mosquitoes are put off by the smell of certain animal species, including chickens.
Having the birds around could help prevent humans being bitten by the mozzies, they believe.
Professor Rickard Ignell, from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, said: "We were surprised to find that malaria mosquitoes are repelled by the odours emitted by chickens.
"This study shows for the first time that malaria mosquitoes actively avoid feeding on certain animal species, and that this behaviour is regulated through odour cues."
Working in Ethiopia, the scientists tested mosquitoes to find out what kind of blood they fed on.
They discovered that the malaria mosquito Anopheles arabiensis strongly preferred human to animal blood when feeding indoors.
Outdoors, the insects randomly fed on cattle, goats and sheep - but both inside and outside, they steered clear of chickens.
Further tests showed that the mosquitoes avoided traps baited with compounds extracted from chicken feathers. Suspending a living chicken in a cage next to a trap had a similar effect.
The research is reported in Malaria Journal.
Dr Ignell added: "People in sub-Saharan Africa have suffered considerably under the burden of malaria over an extended period of time and mosquitoes are becoming increasingly physiologically resistant to pesticides, while also changing their feeding habits for example by moving from indoors to outdoors.
"For this reason there is a need to develop novel control methods. In our study, we have been able to identify a number of natural odour compounds which could repel host-seeking malaria mosquitoes and prevent them from getting in contact with people."