Feel the heat: Activation, orientation and feeding responses of bed bugs to targets at different temperatures

Zachary C. DeVries, Russell Mick, Coby Schal

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Host location in bed bugs is poorly understood. Of the primary hostassociated cues known to attract bed bugs - CO2, odors, heat - heat has received little attention as an independent stimulus. We evaluated the effects of target temperatures ranging from 23 to 48°C on bed bug activation, orientation and feeding. Activation and orientation responses were assessed using a heated target in a circular arena. All targets heated above ambient temperature activated bed bugs (initiated movement) and elicited oriented movement toward the target, with higher temperatures generally resulting in faster activation and orientation. The distance over which bed bugs could orient toward a heat source was measured using a 2-choice T-maze assay. Positive thermotaxis was limited to distances <3 cm. Bed bug feeding responses on an artificial feeding system increased with feeder temperature up to 38 and 43°C, and declined precipitously at 48°C. In addition, bed bugs responded to the relative difference between ambient and feeder temperatures. These results highlight the wide range of temperatures that elicit activation, orientation and feeding responses in bed bugs. In contrast, the ability of bed bugs to correctly orient towards a heated target, independently of other cues, is limited to very short distances (<3 cm). Finally, bed bug feeding is shown to be relative to ambient temperature, not an absolute response to feeder blood temperature.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3773-3780
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number23
StatePublished - Dec 1 2016

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016. Published by The Company of Biologists Ltd.


  • Cimex lectularius
  • Cimicidae
  • Host attraction
  • Sensory cues
  • Thermal orientation
  • Thermotaxis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Physiology
  • Aquatic Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Insect Science


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