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Who Knew? Bed Bugs Prefer Certain Colors

By Chris Williams on May 2, 2016.

Got red satin sheets on your bed? If so, and if you have bed bugs, new research might have you considering a switch to bleached white sheets instead. Researchers say that bed bugs prefer the colors red and black and shun bright whites.

A research team from Union College in Nebraska and the University of Florida put bed bugs in petri dishes with little paper tents made of different colors. Since bed bugs spend their days in hiding, they immediately sought the shelter of a paper tent. Overall, the tents they chose were black and red, they were less interested in tents that were white, yellow, or green.

Why should bed bugs care what color their environment is? Their normal attractant cues are CO2 and heat emanating from a prospective victim. The researchers posed several theories for the color preferences. One is that bed bugs gravitate to red because they themselves appear red after feeding and they like to hang out with others. But the most plausible theory is that darker colors protect the soft-bodied insects from drying out better than light, bright colors would. Insects have evolved always fighting a battle to remain moist, so anything that helps to retain body fluids is a good thing for them. Female bed bugs also preferred to lay their eggs in the darker-colored tents, no doubt an evolved behavior to keep the eggs from drying out as well.

Color Preferences Could Influence Trap Design

Lest you think that this is one of those frivolous research studies that comedians make fun of on late night TV, there is a practical application. Those in the pest control industry are always trying to come up with better ways to control bed bugs. Pesticides have limited use because most bed bugs have become resistant to the various pesticides, so monitoring traps are playing a more important role in control programs. Manufacturers will be interested because this research suggests that black traps could be more effective than white traps. Currently there are bed bug traps available in both colors.

As for the color of your sheets, that’s really not going to make much difference to a hungry bed bug as long as there is the much stronger lure of your warm, blood-filled body waiting in the bed.

Photo Credit :  U.S. Department of Agriculture | CC BY 2.0

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