Bed bugs (Cimex lectularius) have proliferated globally and have become one of the most challenging pests to control indoors. They are nocturnal and use multiple sensory cues to detect and orient towards their human hosts. After feeding, usually on a sleeping human, they return to a shelter on or around the sleeping surface, but not directly on the host. We hypothesized that although human skin odors attract hungry bed bugs, human skin compounds may also prevent arrestment on hosts. We used arrestment assays to test human skin swabs, extracts from human skin swabs, and pure compounds identified from human skin swabs. When given a choice, bed bugs preferred to arrest on substrates not previously conditioned by humans. These responses were consistent among laboratory-reared and apartment-collected bed bugs. The compounds responsible for this behavior were found to be extractable in hexane, and bed bugs responded to such extracts in a dose-dependent manner. Bioassay-guided fractionation paired with thin-layer chromatography, GC–MS, and LC–MS analyses suggested that triglycerides (TAGs), common compounds found on human skin, were preventing arrestment on shelters. Bed bugs universally avoided sheltering in TAG-treated shelters, which was independent of the number of carbons or the number of double bonds in the TAG. These results provide strong evidence that the complex of human skin compounds serve as multifunctional semiochemicals for bed bugs, with some odorants attracting host-seeking stages, and others (TAGs and possibly other compounds) preventing bed bug arrestment. Host chemistry, environmental conditions and the physiological state of bed bugs likely influence the dual nature behavioral responses of bed bugs to human skin compounds.
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This study was supported in part by grants from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development Health Homes program (NCHHU0053-19 to CS and KYHHU0061-20 to ZCD), the National Institutes of Health (DP5OD028155 to ZCD), the U.S. National Science Foundation (DEB-1754190 to CS), the Department of the Army, U.S. Army Contracting Command, Aberdeen Proving Ground, Natick Contracting Division, Ft. Detrick, MD (W911QY1910011 to CS), and the Blanton J. Whitmire Endowment at North Carolina State university.
Gaire, Sudip; DeVries, Zachary C.; Mick, Russell; Santangelo, Richard G.; Bottillo, Grazia; Camera, Emanuela; and Schal, Coby, "Human Skin Triglycerides Prevent Bed Bug (Cimex lectularius L.) Arrestment" (2021). Entomology Faculty Publications. 228.