Chemical Cocktail Lures Bedbugs And Coaxes Them To Stay Put | Chemical & Engineering News
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Web Date: December 22, 2014

Chemical Cocktail Lures Bedbugs And Coaxes Them To Stay Put

Pheromones: Mixture of volatiles and histamine could enable cheaper pest detection and control
Department: Science & Technology | Collection: Critter Chemistry
News Channels: Analytical SCENE, Biological SCENE, Organic SCENE
Keywords: Bed bug, pheromone, histamine
Credit: Mike Hrabar
A photo of bedbugs.
Credit: Mike Hrabar

Well-fed bedbugs appear to use histamine to signal their comrades to stick around.

Going against conventional wisdom, Regine Gries let the bedbugs bite. A lot.

The biologist let the pests in her laboratory feast on the blood in her forearms— to the tune of some 180,000 bites—in the name of science. In doing so, she’s helped discover a previously unidentified bedbug pheromone that could help identify and fight future infestations.

When bedbugs move into a building, eradicating them is an expensive process fraught with anxiety and frustration. Many researchers are working on improving bedbug detection methods because existing techniques are often costly or too time consuming for routine monitoring. Some think that baiting traps with bedbug pheromones could provide an affordable way to detect infestations before they become severe.

But researchers have been missing an important piece of the pheromone puzzle, namely the arrestant compound that bedbugs use to tell one another that a particular habitat is a safe place to hunker down— between a mattress and a box spring, for instance.

A team of biologists and chemists at Simon Fraser University, in Canada, led by Gries, her husband Gerhard J. Gries, and Robert A. Britton now believes it has identified the arrestant: histamine, a simple compound humans produce during immune responses (Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 2014, DOI: 10.1002/anie.201409890). Bedbugs, the team found, release histamine in their feces and in their cuticles, the skin they shed after a blood meal. This sort of waste accumulates in the bugs’ favorite hiding spots, often near a food source. The researchers are now working to turn their discovery into commercialized bedbug traps.

The researchers identified histamine, along with a cornucopia of other chemicals, using nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy and gas chromatography/mass spectrometry. To test how bugs in the lab respond to each potential pheromone, they then had to gather “an enormous collection of cuticles and feces to get enough material to identify what the arrestant was,” Britton says. Getting bedbugs to shed and defecate the requisite amount required an awful lot of feeding, hence, the nearly 200,000 bedbug bites endured by Regine.

Beyond uncovering histamine, the team also determined that bedbugs produce five key volatile organic compounds, including 2-hexanone and dimethyldisulfide, to attract one another. Armed with this discovery, the researchers concocted a cocktail of histamine and alluring volatiles to bait traps. Because the compounds are all rather simple and easy to synthesize, Britton says, the chemical cost per trap was less than 10 cents.

The researchers tested their bait in bedbug-infested locations around Vancouver and found that their pheromone blend not only lured bedbugs into traps, but also kept them there, a crucial and challenging step in detection.

Kenneth F. Haynes, an entomologist at the University of Kentucky, tells C&EN this study could be the basis of “the breakthrough that is required to deal with this difficult pest.” Haynes, who was not involved with the study, adds that he’s excited to see how these findings influence pest control practices.

Gerhard Gries says he’s working with Contech Enterprises, a Canadian company that manufactures environmentally friendly pest control products, to develop commercial traps, which he hopes will be available next year. “We’ve identified a set of really straightforward chemicals that are effective,” he says. “That’s the main reason we really think this technology could make a big difference.”.

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ISSN 0009-2347
Copyright © American Chemical Society
SSheri (December 23, 2014 6:38 AM)
That's great news now how do I find what's needed to get rid of these bedbugs
Patricia Murphy (December 3, 2015 9:17 PM)
I read the article about bedbugs and how they're attracted to this pheromone. What is the bed bug traps made of? What kinds of things do you need to make bed bug traps with these pheromones? I would like to buy or make these traps myself to catch the bed bugs in my apartment. I had an infestation a few month ago, killed most of them by having an exterminator over but they still show up once in a while and I still get bites because I can't find out where the eggs are hidden. They're not around my bed because I have a barrier there to keep them away by using diatonacious earth. But they are elsewhere in my apartment, mostly around where I hav a lot of paper. I just want to draw them out and kill them off for good. Email with the recipe or making this trap you talked about.

My email address is
Thank you
Matt Davenport (December 7, 2015 5:33 PM)
Thanks for reaching out, Patricia. I'm so sorry to hear about the lingering pests. I'm not sure if there's a finalized trap recipe yet, but I've forwarded your message to the researchers and will let you know if I hear anything.
Jason A. Janet, PhD (January 20, 2016 9:19 AM)
Unfortunately, this article does not mention a few critical things.

1. All the compounds used in the attractant are VOLATILE. VOCs are not typically considered safe.

2. Two of the compounds have Sulfides, which gives this lure an offensive odor...we're still trying to find containers that keep it from stinking up storage, refrigerator, and other spaces.

3. It has little to no endurance because the volatile compounds evaporate, even if they are suspended in mineral oil or parafin.

4. Contech went bankrupt.

5. There is no empirical data available (as far as I'm aware) regarding its effectiveness outside a lab.

It is widely agreed that the best lures for bed bugs are: 1) humans (heat, breath, vibration, pheromones); 2) Bed bug feces and exuvia; and, 3) Heat.

Regarding Patricia's challenge, it's my experience that Silica gel and heat treatment are most effective (and safe).
PDavid Johnson (March 18, 2016 10:38 PM)
Has anyone or organization done any research on the possiblity of killing bed bugs through the source of their livelihood, i.e. human blood? It would seem to me that there is possiblity a concoction that wouldnot harm the human, if ingested, yet would serve as a poision to the bed bug if they bite people and ingest their blood.I am not a scientist so, I have no idea how this could or would be done. I have been told that I might be what is called a host, would appreciate any view point on this.
please e-mail a response. sincerly and thanks
Matt Davenport (March 25, 2016 9:00 AM)
Thanks for the question! It's definitely an interesting query that I unfortunately don't know much about. I did, however, find this article from 2012 that has some information about the type of studies you mention:
Junaid Rehman PhD (September 21, 2016 5:29 PM)
Nice article and efforts. But, it is mentioned that fed bed bugs use histamine as signals which they get from human blood, but what about the non-fed ones. In their recent article in 2015(;jsessionid=061BA7E79152274C2930B5CD4CC4FBDA.f03t04), they proved this in lab and field experiments that VPCs+histamine attracts bed bugs. To me,heat plus these mixture of pheromone will work more effectively.
Secondly,eradication of bed bugs is important, and no idea how initial instars will respond to this.
Thirdly,eggs would be there for hatching,and to me its a longtime process, people had to sleep on beds etc. Upon hatching bed bugs will prefer human host than the attractant.
Fourthly, killing all bed bugs stages in one attempt will be less time consuming than using attractant. Attractant can be used after complete treatment of infested area, in case to keep follow and prevent building up infestation.
B. G. (April 12, 2017 11:42 PM)
Had success on flea outbreak with only 1/2 tsp diatomaceous earth in 1.5 gallons of hot mop water . Used this mixture in a large bucket with a built in wringer and spread it over the hard floor and baseboards where the cats were. First though i filled a small plastic water container with hot water , then i added the DA, then i put the lid on and shook it very well. Then this mixture was added to the hot mop water in the bucket , and I stirred the mop around to keep the DA from settling in the bottom of the bucket too, this I repeated many times as I mopped the floor with the mixture.
Suddenly , overnight the cats stopped scratching and sitting in way up on high spots on bookshelves and on top of dryer . They're no longer diving at their itchy spots and they're sleeping in their favorite spots again , which are close to the floor.
Now I believe buildings should be built with diatomaceous earth inside the walls, and there should be easy access for adding fresh DA once or twice yearly.
It should be perhaps manufactured into particle board and sheet rock and baseboards and paint etc.
Have now used a sponge soaked in 12 oz water that has 1 half tsp of diatomaceous earth in it , to very carefully dab around baseboards where carpet meets walls , and near bottom of feet on couch, etc . With this method I again mix the solution in a small water bottle and after shaking it I pour abut 2 inches worth into a small cup into which I dip the sponge

PHOTOM (September 25, 2017 9:16 PM)
Yes I agree but DA is as we know as volatile as asbestos...
So using Da in natural form will be more harmful than the little creatures who annoy you... But I use it caringly often.

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