Smelling your way to food: can bed bugs use our odour?

Vincent Harraca, Camilla Ryne, Göran Birgersson, Rickard Ignell

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46 Citations (SciVal)


The resurgence in developed countries of the common bed bug, Cimex lectularius, has led to a search for new sustainable methods to monitor and control this human ectoparasite. Because of increased resistance to insecticides, traps baited with attractive cues are considered a promising method to be developed into efficient monitoring tools for bed bugs. Despite their potential as attractants, only a few studies have investigated the odorant cues implicated in the attraction of bed bugs to human hosts. In this study, we used aeration extracts from human volunteers to assess the role of olfaction in host searching by bed bugs. By coupled gas chromatography and single sensillum recordings on all the antennal sensilla, we measured the electrophysiological response elicited by the compounds present in our human odour extracts. Only five compounds were clearly detected by the olfactory receptor neurons housed in the smooth-peg sensilla of the bed bugs. We tested the behavioural effect of these extracts in a still-air arena and showed a gradient of repellence linked to the dose, as well as a higher propensity of local search behaviour associated with human odours containing a lower ratio of 6-methyl-5-hepten-2-one to C(7)-C(10) aldehydes. We conclude that human odour alone has a weak influence on the behaviour of C. lectularius and we propose that human kairomones may have a significant impact on bed bug behaviour in combination with heat and carbon dioxide, the only two currently known attractive vertebrate cues used by bed bugs for host seeking.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)623-629
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2012

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Zoology


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