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Douse Your Duvet: Bedbugs Can’t Stand Their Own Smell

Turning bedbugs’ own pheromones against them.

Douse Your Duvet: Bedbugs Can’t Stand Their Own Smell

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Bed bugs are the scourge of New York, and of other cities as well. And yet, for a number of reasons, the long-awaited War on Bedbugs has yet to arrive. Since they don’t actually spread disease (though they have on occasion provoked an allergic reaction), they’re not a priority for American research dollars. Being one of the lone U.S. scientists who sets out to study the creatures hasn’t traditionally been pleasant; one researcher let a colony feed on him for 30 years, while another used condoms filled with rabbit blood, until university auditors became suspicious, according to the New York Times. It’s gotten to the point where some researchers suggest the best we can do is “psychologically reappraise” bedbugs–essentially will outselves to view them as being less scary and repulsive.

That’s cold comfort for anyone who’s got voracious, unwanted visitors living in their mattress. Which is why today’s news from Lund University and Mid Sweden University presents a glimmer of hope. Bedbug infestations are on the rise in Sweden, too, apparently–both common bedbugs and exotic “tropical” bedbugs that hitch rides back to Scandinavia in the luggage and clothing of Swedish vacationers.

A team of researchers “identified and quantified a type of smell that bed bugs produce, known as alarm pheromones.” “Nymph” bedbugs in particular–ones not yet fully grown–produce a smell that both adults and other nymphs find repugnant. The researchers hope that the repulsive “alarm pheromones” might be harnessed to help control bedbugs. It’s not that the pheromones themselves would be sufficient to convince bedbugs to move out. Rather, skillful use of the pheromones would increase the mobility of the bedbugs and “therefore increase the effectiveness of drying agents to kill them”–something like smoking a critter out of its hole before catching it. 

How long till we reap the fruits of this bedbug-fighting innovation? We’ve reached out to the scientists to find out. So far, they’ve only said that “this type of possible environmentally friendly control method requires greater understanding of how bed bugs’ pheromone system works.”

[Image: Flickr user oldmaison]

[Top Feat image by Piotr Naskrecki]

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About the author

David Zax is a contributing writer for Fast Company. His writing has appeared in many publications, including Smithsonian, Slate, Wired, and The Wall Street Journal

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