Human skin lipids found to repel bed bugs

University of Kentucky Entomologists: Human Skin Lipids Repel Bed Bugs

Unlike other human pests, bed bugs only feed on their hosts for a short time before hiding until their next meal. British entomologists have found that this behavior is due to triglycerides on human skin that the beetles repel. Photo credit: Matt Barton, UK Agricultural Communications.

Entomology researchers at the University of Kentucky found that skin triglycerides, or lipids, prevent bed bugs from staying on human hosts for very long. Their discovery could lead to new management strategies for this important human pest.

“We already knew that human body odors, carbon dioxide and heat attract bed bugs to feed on people. Our latest research shows why they don’t stay on humans like other pests like lice are lipids or triglycerides in our skin that cause them to leave their hosts and hide in nearby places like beds and mattresses, “said Zach DeVries, Assistant Professor of Urban Entomology at the UK College of Agriculture, Food and Environment.

DeVries and Sudip Gaire, British postdocs, tested this latest finding by rubbing a strip of filter paper on the participants’ skin to collect samples. The research participants represented numerous age groups and ethnicities. They also tested the theory on multiple populations of bed bugs raised in the laboratory and collected in the field.

“Our results were consistent for all triglyceride types, all participant groups, and all bed bug populations,” DeVries said. “Bed bugs almost always preferred the control filter strip to the one that contained skin triglycerides.”

“The bed bugs don’t like to sit on skin triglycerides and refuse to stay on surfaces that contain triglycerides,” Gaire said. “We have achieved tremendous results using only a small amount of triglycerides.”

While more research is needed to find out why bed bugs dislike the triglycerides and whether there are other potential bed bug repellants in human skin, DeVries and Gaire believe this could be an important start to more effective bed bug control.

“Our results can offer several potential management opportunities,” DeVries said. “Our results could possibly be used to deter bed bugs from hitchhiking on people’s belongings, thereby reducing their spread.”

The results were first presented in Scientific reports.

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More information:
Sudip Gaire et al., Human Skin Triglycerides Prevent Bed Bugs (Cimex lectularius L.) From Arresting, Scientific reports (2021). DOI: 10.1038 / s41598-021-01981-1

Provided by the University of Kentucky

Quote: Lipids in human skin that repel bed bugs (2021, December 9), accessed December 9, 2021 from

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