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Does the Color of Your Bedding Matter to Bedbugs?

Distressingly, it seems the answer is “yes.”

A bed bug is displayed at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

The next time you’re at Bed Bath & Beyond shopping for sheets, ask yourself this: Will bedbugs like this color?

The unfortunate reality is the atrocious pests do seem to prefer hiding among certain hues, according to a study in the Journal of Medical Entomology. Researchers at the University of Florida and elsewhere put bedbugs in dishes with paper “tents” of varying colors. They gave them 10 minutes to scoot to these enclaves, and then noted which attracted the densest accumulations of vermin. The findings: The bugs gathered in larger numbers under red and black tents and smaller numbers in yellow and green ones.

The researchers speculate the bloodsuckers prefer black and red hues because those are also the colors of well-fed bedbugs, and these insects like to clump up among their own kind. But there could be other things going on, they explain in a press release:

While this is a plausible explanation, many factors influenced which color the bed bugs chose. For example, the bugs’ color preferences changed as they grew older, and they chose different colors when they were in groups than when they were alone. They also chose different colors depending on whether they were hungry or fed. Furthermore, males and females seemed to prefer different colors.

The authors suggest that a possible explanation for why bed bugs avoided yellow and green colors is because those colors resemble brightly-lit areas. These findings are important because they may have implications for controlling the pests.

So should you haul all your crimson covers out in the yard for a good ol’ fashioned bonfire? Probably not… unless you have a severe case of bedbug paranoia. “I think using colors to monitor and prevent bed bugs would have to be specifically applied to some sort of trap, and it would have to be used along with another strategy for control,” says study coauthor Corraine McNeill. “I don’t know how far I would go to say don’t get a red suitcase or red sheets, but the research hasn’t been done yet, so we can’t really rule that out completely.”

About the Author

  • John Metcalfe
    John Metcalfe is CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, based in Oakland. His coverage focuses on climate change and the science of cities.