Entrapment of bed bugs by leaf trichomes inspires microfabrication of biomimetic surfaces

Megan W. Szyndler, Kenneth F. Haynes, Michael F. Potter, Robert M. Corn, Catherine Loudon

Abstract

Resurgence in bed bug infestations and widespread pesticide resistance have greatly renewed interest in the development of more sustainable, environmentally friendly methods to manage bed bugs. Historically, in Eastern Europe, bed bugs were entrapped by leaves from bean plants, which were then destroyed; this purely physical entrapment was related to microscopic hooked hairs (trichomes) on the leaf surfaces. Using scanning electron microscopy and videography, we documented the capture mechanism: the physical impaling of bed bug feet (tarsi) by these trichomes. This is distinct from a Velcro-like mechanism of non-piercing entanglement, which only momentarily holds the bug without sustained capture. Struggling, trapped bed bugs are impaled by trichomes on several legs and are unable to free themselves. Only specific, mechanically vulnerable locations on the bug tarsi are pierced by the trichomes, which are located at effective heights and orientations for bed bug entrapment despite a lack of any evolutionary association. Using bean leaves as templates, we microfabricated surfaces indistinguishable in geometry from the real leaves, including the trichomes, using polymers with material properties similar to plant cell walls. These synthetic surfaces snag the bed bugs temporarily but do not hinder their locomotion as effectively as real leaves.

  • Received February 23, 2013.
  • Accepted February 25, 2013.
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