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Bed Bug Feeding: The Live Host Method (Part 1/3)

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Bed Bug Feeding

Goddard. Feeding by the Common Bedbug. 2009.

In the first part of our three-part series on bed bug research, we will cover the most effective method of feeding laboratory reared bed bug colonies in terms of cost and reliability—the live host method. Humans or animals can be used and while both methods are effective, each presents its own challenges.

As in nature, bed bugs feed on human blood, making a human volunteer the most direct option. When using human hosts, the bed bugs are held in an insect container with a fine mesh lid. The container is held up to the skin, usually the arm or leg of the volunteer, with the mesh lid touching the skin. While this method is the most cost efficient and the threat of bed bug mortality from blood leakage is eliminated, it provides an uncomfortable experience for the host during and post feeding as in the vast majority of cases, an allergic reaction consisting of the formation of itchy papules occurs in response to the bed bug saliva (Kolb et al. 2009). Due to this discomfort, obtaining human volunteers may be a challenge.

bed bug feeding airmid healthgroupWhile the use of a human host for bed bug feeding provides the most cost efficient and simple method of rearing bed bugs, it is not ideal for maintaining bed bugs in the laboratory. Laboratories may have hundreds or even thousands of bed bugs in multiple jars to feed, which would be both time consuming and very uncomfortable for any human volunteer. The use of live animal hosts such as chickens, pigeons, rabbits and mice offers a reliable alternative.  The use of this method is effective but costly, and the setup is complex and time consuming.  The skin of the animal is plucked or shaven of all feathers and hair (Araujo et al. 2009). The animals are then anaesthetised and the bed bugs strapped onto their exposed skin. The bed bugs can feed from an insect container through a fine mesh. Higher fecundity was reported when Cimex lectularius were fed on rabbits in comparison to humans, chickens and pigeons (Chin-Heady et al. 2013). Araujo et al. investigated the influence of coagulation on feeding efficiency and the results revealed that the feeding process was more efficient on anticoagulant-treated pigeons than untreated pigeons. The ratio of weight gain/ingestion rate was more than threefold higher for the bed bug group fed on anticoagulant-treated pigeons (Araujo et al. 2009).

Next week, we will cover the first of the artificial feeding methods used in the lab.


Contact Graeme Tarbox if you have any questions on the issues raised in this article and to learn how we can add value to your company:

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