Host location in bed bugs is poorly understood. Of the primary host-associated 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 23-48°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°C 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 which 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.
- Received May 20, 2016.
- Accepted September 14, 2016.
- © 2016. Published by The Company of Biologists Ltd