You’ve probably heard the proverb “sleep tight and don’t let the bed bugs bite” before. The phrase “sleep tight” refers to old-fashioned mattresses where the bedding was suspended from cords that were pulled tight to create a firmer sleeping surface, while the phrase “don’t let the bed bugs bite” surely doesn’t need any further explanation.

Up until around ten years ago, the majority of Americans may not have known anything about bed bugs. Since then, the bed bug population has exploded, infesting offices, hotels, and even our homes and apartments. To combat these tiny but dreadful pests, researchers with the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture have been working hard.

While filthy and repulsive, bloodsucking bed bugs don’t seem to spread disease, but they can give some people serious allergic reactions. Since the bugs are so tiny, it may take some time before their number becomes noticeable, and exterminating them can be expensive.

Turning these animals’ own chemistry against them, according to the ARS scientists, could be one method of combat. Recent research has revealed two new “alarm pheromones” that bed bugs release to warn other bed bugs to run when they become alarmed.

Even while dispersing a bed bug party sounds like a good idea in any situation, the researchers claim that doing so increases the chance that the pests may come into contact with an insecticide or other control measure.

Using the mass spectrometry method, ARS researchers and a university colleague were able to pinpoint 17 substances known as “cuticular hydrocarbons,” which are connected to the bug’s outer protective coat. These substances might contribute to the beg bugs’ propensity to form groups.

Scientists say that these substances on the bed bug’s skin and alarm pheromones may help dogs find bed bugs. A better understanding of the chemical underpinnings of canine detection could help harmonize training and detection techniques and give canines yet another opportunity to live up to their image as “man’s best friend”! Canine detection of bed bug infestations is a growing industry.

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