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PLoS One. 2007 Sep 26;2(9):e932.

Do haematophagous bugs assess skin surface temperature to detect blood vessels?

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Laboratório de Triatomíneos e Epidemiologia da Doença de Chagas, Centro de Pesquisas René Rachou, Belo Horizonte, Brazil.



It is known that some blood-sucking insects have the ability to reach vessels under the host skin with their mouthparts to feed blood from inside them. However, the process by which they locate these vessels remains largely unknown. Less than 5% of the skin is occupied by blood vessels and thus, it is not likely that insects rely on a "random search strategy", since it would increase the probability of being killed by their hosts. Indeed, heterogeneities along the skin surface might offer exploitable information for guiding insect's bites.


We tested whether the bug Rhodnius prolixus can evaluate temperature discontinuities along the body surface in order to locate vessels before piercing the host skin. When placed over a rabbit ear, the bug's first bites were mostly directed towards the main vessels. When insects were confronted to artificial linear heat sources presenting a temperature gradient against the background, most bites were directly addressed to the warmer linear source, notwithstanding the temperature of both, the source and the background. Finally, tests performed using uni- and bilaterally antennectomized insects revealed that the bilateral integration of thermal inputs from both antennae is necessary for precisely directing bites.


R. prolixus may be able to exploit the temperature differences observed over the skin surface to locate blood vessles. Bugs bite the warmest targets regardless of the target/background temperatures, suggesting that they do not bite choosing a preferred temperature, but select temperature discontinuities along the skin. This strategy seems to be an efficient one for finding blood vessels within a wide temperature range, allowing finding them on different hosts, as well as on different areas of the host body. Our study also adds new insight about the use of antennal thermal inputs by blood sucking bugs.

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