Tropical bedbugs outclimb common species

tropical bedbugs in a pitfall trap

Climbing tests suggest that tropical bedbugs (Cimex hemipterus, shown) are more adept climbers than common bedbugs (C. lectularius).


Some bedbugs are better climbers than others, and the bloodsuckers’ climbing prowess has practical implications.

To detect and monitor bedbugs, people use an array of strategies, from DIY setups to dogs. Pitfall traps placed near the base of furniture are highly effective for detecting and monitoring an infestation. The traps, which rely on smooth inner walls to prevent escape, are sold around the world. But they have been tested primarily with Cimex lectularius, the most common bedbug species in the United States.

Tropical bedbugs (C. hemipterus), it turns out, can easily scale the walls of pitfall traps, Chow-Yang Lee, an entomologist at Universiti Sains Malaysia in Penang, and colleagues found in lab tests. While 24 to 76 percent of tropical bedbugs in the study escaped traps, no more than 2 percent of common bedbugs made it out of most traps. In measurements of vertical frictional force, tropical bedbugs also came out on top. Further investigation of the species’ feet revealed extra hairs on the tibial pads of tropical bugs. These hairs may give legs a better grip on trap walls, the researchers propose online March 15 in the Journal of Economic Entomology. Tropical bedbugs live in some regions of Africa, Australia, Japan, China and Taiwan. They have recently been spotted in Florida.

The leg of an adult female tropical bedbug (right) appears hairier than an adult female common bedbug’s leg (left) under a scanning electron microscope. D.-Y. Kim et al/Journal of Economic Entomology 2017

Helen Thompson is the multimedia editor. She has undergraduate degrees in biology and English from Trinity University and a master’s degree in science writing from Johns Hopkins University.

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