Bed Bug (Hemiptera: Cimicidae) Attraction to Human Odors: Validation of a Two-Choice Olfactometer

Zachary C. DeVries, Ahmed M. Saveer, Russell Mick, Coby Schal

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Bed bugs (Cimex lectularius L.) (Hemiptera: Cimicidae) are obligate hematophagous ectoparasites, and, therefore, must locate suitable hosts to ensure survival and reproduction. Their largely nocturnal activity suggests that chemosensory and thermosensory cues would play critical roles in host location. Yet, the importance of olfaction in host attraction of bed bugs remains unclear. We developed and validated a Y-Tube, two-choice olfactometer and tested its suitability for investigating attraction to human odors (from skin swabs). Olfactometer orientation significantly affected the percentage of bed bugs that were activated by human odors, with significantly more bed bugs responding when the olfactometer was oriented vertically (bug introduced at bottom of the olfactometer) compared with all other orientations. Starved (7-10 d) adult males, mated females, and nymphs responded (47-77% moved up the olfactometer and made a choice) when human odors were present in the olfactometer, while starved, unmated females did not respond. Skin swabs from all five human participants elicited high response rates (65-82%), and bed bugs from four different populations responded to skin swabs (40-82% response rate). However, in all assays including those resulting in relatively low response rates, bed bugs exhibited >90% preference for human odors over blank controls. These results provide strong evidence that bed bugs can respond and orient towards human odors, independently of all other host cues. Furthermore, the validated olfactometer should enable rapid and efficient evaluations of bed bug behavioral responses to semiochemicals.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)362-367
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Medical Entomology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 25 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Richard Santangelo for assistance with experimental animals during this study and all participants for donating skin swabs for testing.Funding for this study was provided by the Blanton J. Whitmire Endowment at North Carolina State University, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Healthy Homes program (NCHHU0017-13), and a National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences grant to the Center for Human Health and the Environment (CHHE, P30ES025128). Z.C.D. was also supported by the David R. Nimocks Jr. Fellowship and scholarship awards from the Foundation for Agromedicine and Toxicology, Pi Chi Omega, and the Entomological Society of America (Monsanto Research Grant Award, MUVE Scholarship).

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of Entomological Society of America. All rights reserved.


  • behavior
  • chemotaxis
  • host attraction
  • host odor
  • olfaction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Parasitology
  • Veterinary (all)
  • Insect Science
  • Infectious Diseases


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