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Bed Bugs Could Be Repelled By Their Own Smell


Immature bed bugs (nymphs) produce a type of smell called alarm pheromones that is repulsive to both adults and other nymphs. This finding could mean that scientists can develop an environmentally safe way to use the bed bugs’ own smell to drive other bed bugs away.

Pheromones could help repel bed bugs

Bed bugs were a common problem in the United States before the early 1940s, then became rare after widespread use of the pesticide DDT up through the 1950s. The pests have reemerged in recent years, especially in 2009 and 2010, when there were significant outbreaks reported around the country.

Bed bugs are very difficult to eradicate, as they can hide in tiny cracks in the walls, furniture, textiles, wallpaper cracks, curtains, carpet, and upholstery. Bed bugs are resilient insects, and they can hide and live for many months without eating.

While vacuuming may remove some bed bugs, a vacuum cleaner cannot reach all the places the bugs can hide. If an infestation extends beyond a very limited area, professional exterminators are often needed to eradicate the pests, and these individuals may use both pesticides and nonchemical methods, such as sealing the house or building and using steam, heat, or freezing temperatures to kill the bugs.

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Researchers from Lund University and Mid Sweden University identified and evaluated pheromones produced by two different species of bed bugs: Cimex hemipterus (tropical bed bug) and C. lectularius (the common bed bug). They gathered pheromone components from 32 C. hemipterus samples and 41 C. lectularius samples, adults and nymphs in both groups, and evaluated them using gas chromatography.

Four specific volatiles emitted by the bed bugs were identified. Analysis showed that the odors emitted by the two species were similar, that nymphs gave off a different smell than do adults, and that high concentrations of the pheromone from the nymphs prompted a strong repellent effect on all life stages and both sexes of bed bugs.

Pheromones are chemicals that are secreted or excreted by different species, ranging from insects to humans, that prompt a social response in members of the same species. Alarm pheromones are only one type of the chemical; there are also sex pheromones, food pheromones, and others. They have been studied quite extensively in insects.

The study’s authors believe their findings could lead to development of a pheromone-based bed bug control approach that could be used against both species of bed bugs. More information about how the pests’ pheromone system works is needed before such a method will be possible.

Liedtke HC et al. PLoS ONE 6(3): e18156. Doi: 10.1371journal.pone.0018156