Trap from Balkan folklore aids scientific quest to ground bedbugs for good


It’s been frozen, baked, suffocated and sprayed with toxins — and each time the bedbug bounces back, leaving tiny bite marks on legs or arms where it has feasted on an unwitting host’s blood.

But thanks to a combination of Balkan folklore and nanoscale science, the pesky critter may have met its match. In a journal of Britain’s prestigious Royal Society, U.S. entomologists on Tuesday reported progress in a quest to emulate antibedbug defenses found in the hairs of leaves from the kidney bean plant.

In Bulgaria, Serbia and other parts of the Balkans, these leaves are scattered on the floor next to the bed, snagging the blood-sucking parasites during their night-time forays. The following day, the bug-encrusted leaves are burned.

Eager to learn how the process works, the scientists used high-speed video cameras and scanning electron microscopy to study lab bedbugs that had been coaxed into trotting across a bed of leaves. The investigators were surprised to find that the leaves are studded with extremely sharp points called trichomes, that pierce the legs of bedbugs. Impaled on several legs at the same time, the creatures are doomed. The next step was to copy the leaves, using them as a template for “biomimicry,” aiming to make a bedbug barrier that can be used on any surface.