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Let the bedbugs bite

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2:29pm, August 23, 2013

STEALING BLOOD  Three to 12 minutes is enough for Cimex lectularius to use its long piercing mouthparts (shown in a false-color image) for a stealthy blood heist.

Harold Harlan has been feeding bedbugs, intentionally, on his own blood since 1973. He keeps pint or quart jars in his home containing at least 4,000 bugs. And now Harlan’s self-sacrifice is helping other researchers studying the recent resurgence of bedbugs in the United States and other parts of the world.

For most of the first 25 years of this enterprise, Harlan (below) worked as a commissioned U.S. Army entomologist, and bedbugs were a pet project. Then the bugs made a comeback, and other researchers needed advice on care and feeding as they set up laboratory colonies. They also needed a bedbug source.

“I ask them to pay for shipping,” says Harlan, now working for the Armed Forces Pest Management Board. He has provided his blood for free, in the course of rearing 6,000-plus bedbugs (so far) for the starter kits he sends out. 

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