Tropical Bed Bugs Climb out of Traps

A new study out of Malaysia has revealed that tropical bed bugs are much better at climbing than other varieties. As a result, common bed bug traps that rely on bed bugs being unable to climb up surfaces may be much less effectivethan previously thought.

The female tropical bedbug
(Cimex hemipterus). Pen and ink drawing
by A.J.E. Terzi, ca. 1919.

Tropical bed bugs – aka Cimex hemipterus – are usually not distinguished from the common bed bug – Cimex lectularius. To the naked eye both varieties of bed bugs appear the same, and they’re behavior and feeding patterns are likewise generally assumed to be identical. The only difference that is normally mentioned is habitat; while the common bed bug is found across temperate climates like those in North America and Europe, the tropical bed bus is found in places like Malaysia that have a climate that’s, well, tropical.

However in a new study by entomologist Chow-Yang Lee at the University of Science in Malaysia the differences in climbing ability between the two species became evident. The study, published in the Journal of Economic Entomology, set out to test the efficacy of common climbing traps for bed bugs and found that although juveniles of both varieties had difficulties escaping, adult tropical bed bugs were able to get out of all traps much more frequently. Further research revealed that adult tropical bed bugs have much hairier legs, providing better friction and allowing for them to escape more.

Although this is an important distinction between the tropical bed bug and the common bed bug this does not mean that our current methods of bed bug control won’t work on tropical bed bugs. Bed bug traps are normally used to verify infestations, not as a method of eliminating them altogether. Additionally, several of the trap varieties still caught a significant number of bugs. The Volcano bed bug intercepeter, for instance, trapped 80% of adult tropical bed bugs, which is still enough to confirm an infestation. And at this point other than a difference in the hairiness of their legs we don’t know of any physical differences between the two species that leads us to recommend different extermination procedures based on what kind of bed bug infestation you have.