War on Bedbugs: Could 'Mood Killer' Chemical Work?

Could bedbugs' frisky behavior be their downfall?

ByABC News
September 8, 2010, 12:39 PM

Sept. 9, 2010 -- Research has shown that male bedbugs are frisky little creatures -- a fact that could explain their prodigious ability to multiply and spread.

So, as strategy after strategy to contain these itch-producing pests fails, some are hoping research into their mating practices could nip this growing bug problem in the bud.

That's just one angle scientists are studying with the hope of developing a way to control a bedbug population that entomologists say has risen dramatically.

"This is probably just one of many things that scientists are looking at," said Jody Gangloff-Kaufmann, senior extension associate at the New York State Institute of Pest Management of Cornell University. "It may not have a practical purpose, but it's a very unique type of reproduction, so maybe it's vulnerable."

Scientists say after males feed they're eager to reproduce. They attempt to inseminate pretty much any other large, newly fed bedbugs that are around, whether they're male, female or immature nymphs. Scientists refer to bedbugs' mating habit as "traumatic," meaning the insects stab females with their reproductive organ and inseminate them.

A group of researchers in Sweden have discovered that the nymphs emit a certain chemical that acts as a deterrent to adult males, signaling that the males will have to look elsewhere for a reproductive partner.

The study's lead author says the research could eventually lead to the development of a way to control bedbugs.

"As these compounds showed a natural effect of mating disruption in the laboratory, it holds great promise for a new potential control method of bed bug by decreasing their reproduction," said Vincent Harraca of the department of ecology at Lund University in Lund, Sweden. The study appears in the most recent issue of the journal BMC Biology.

Gangloff-Kaufmann hypothesized how this pheromone could be used.

"If you sprayed the bedbugs that were receptive with this pheromone, males would not be inclined to mate," Gangloff-Kaufmann said. "They would believe they are all inappropriate partners and may find themselves unable to reproduce."

Other entomologists are unsure about how useful this study could be for developing a way to control the bedbug population. In fact, they warned, using this chemical could have the opposite effect.