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Researchers decode the chemical signals of bed bugs in real time

Illustration for article titled Researchers decode the chemical signals of bed bugs in real time

Bed bugs are a major cause of paranoia, and the mere suggestion of an infestation can lead to mass panic. But with all the scientific tools at our disposal, we ought to be able to figure out how these things work, and stop them from infesting our homes and us miserable. Right? And now, luckily, there's been a major step forward.

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A group of researchers from Denmark have combined two methods of observing the activity of bed bugs in order to understand the signals they communicate with each other in real time. Traditionally, the chemical signals the insects create have been analyzed by collecting them over a period of time. What the researchers have done is devise a method that's far faster, allowing near instant reading.

They use proton transfer reaction mass spectrometry to instantly analyze the gas coming off of the bugs, combined with video recording to compare what specifically might be triggering the chemical spikes at various points.

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In the paper, the authors identify specific chemicals that peaked during attempted copulation. Apparently, whenever a male attempted to mount an unwilling partner — be it male or female — the target of their advances released a combination of primarily (E)-2-hexenal and (E)-2-octenal.

This method is sensitive enough to identify compounds down to below one part per billion. As more of these compounds are discovered, it'll be a quick way of identifying how and when the insects use them — and hopefully that can lead to a better way of controlling them, too.

Top image: Armed Forces Pest Management Board/Flickr.

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2eyedchuck
2eyedchuck

Apparently, whenever a male attempted to mount an unwilling partner — be it male or female — the target of their advances released a combination of primarily (E)-2-hexenal and (E)-2-octenal.

Interesting. I did a term paper on these little bastards once; as far as anyone can tell, they reproduce exclusively through traumatic insemination, wherein the male stabs the female in the abdomen with his penis, and the sperm have to travel through her blood and find safe harbor in her seminal vesicles from the inner outside. No one's ever seen anything going into a female bedbug's vagina - just eggs coming out. The females even have a soft, chitin-less patch on their abdomens for easier stabbing. It still takes a toll on them though - females artificially vaginally inseminated lived significantly longer and reproduced significantly more than females in a normal-ish environment. One of the prevailing theories about why this is was that the males preferred to wait until a female was bloated from a blood meal and then inseminate without her permission, rather than expend effort courting.

In short, the sex lives of bed bugs are as horrible and distressing as every single other thing about them.