Time to Change Your Sheets? Bedbugs Have Favorite Colors

Bed Bug
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Do bedbugs prefer their hiding places to be a certain color?

Researchers conducted a series of tests in a lab to see if bedbugs (Cimex lectularius) would favor different-colored harborages, or places where pests seek shelter. The scientists found that bedbugs strongly prefer red and black, and typically avoid colors like green and yellow.

But don't rush out to replace all of your linens just yet. [Up Close & Personal: See Cool Images of Bedbugs]

"I always joke with people, 'Make sure you get yellow sheets!'" study co-author Corraine McNeill, an assistant professor of biology at Union College in Lincoln, Nebraska, said in a statement. "But to be very honest, I think that would be stretching the results a little too much."

The researchers suggest the findings could assist in controlling and trapping the pests.

"We are thinking about how you can enhance bedbug traps by using monitoring tools that act as a harborage and are a specific color that is attractive to the bug," McNeill said.

The color preference could be added to the pest control tool kit, paired with other traps like pheromones or carbon dioxide, McNeill suggested.

In lab tests, the bedbugs' color preference depended on their age, sex and hunger, and whether they were alone or in a group, the researchers said.

Generally, however, the preference toward red and black was prevalent.

"We originally thought the bedbugs might prefer red because blood is red and that's what they feed on," McNeill said. "However, after doing the study, the main reason we think they preferred red colors is because bedbugs themselves appear red, so they go to these harborages because they want to be with other bedbugs, as they are known to exist in aggregations."

Avoidance of green and yellow colors could be due to these shades resembling brightly lit areas, the scientists said.

The tests consisted of colored paper used to make small harborages in Petri dishes. Placed in the middle of the dish, the bedbugs got 10 minutes to choose one of the harborages.

The research was published online yesterday (April 25) in the Journal of Medical Entomology.

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Kacey Deamer
Staff Writer
Kacey Deamer is a journalist for Live Science, covering planet earth and innovation. She has previously reported for Mother Jones, the Reporter's Committee for Freedom of the Press, Neon Tommy and more. After completing her undergraduate degree in journalism and environmental studies at Ithaca College, Kacey pursued her master's in Specialized Journalism: Climate Change at USC Annenberg. Follow Kacey on Twitter.