Do bed bugs learn?


Sometimes when I am addressing bed bugs I marvel at their abilities to survive and adapt. For example bed bugs tend to abandon areas that have been treated with pyrethroid chemicals and harbour in untreated areas. Also bed bugs seem to be able to find the best place to hide as exemplified by a box spring on the floor (unable to enter the favoured area underneath because it is on the floor) and will find a tiny cut in the fabric and make large colonies in the underside of that box spring anyways. Or sometimes the bugs can reliably find a host from 25 feet away despite known host cues being effective for about 5 feet. We don’t know how bed bugs do that. The bugs appear to be smart.

On the other side of the equation when I do repeated experiments with pitfall traps I can use the same bed bugs for 5 or 6 experiments and catch roughly the same number of bugs with each replication. There is, for sure, always some repellency with these traps and I don’t catch all of them but the numbers caught tend to remain constant. If bed bugs were able to learn I would expect diminishing numbers of bugs being caught with each replication of the experiment. I have not found that to be the case. As such, despite the bed bug being a formidable opponent, I don’t think they can “learn.”  But they are programmed with excellent survival skills.


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