National Geographic Society Newsroom

Hairy Skin May Keep the Bedbugs From Biting

    According to new research, having hairy skin may help a person ward off bedbugs.  Participants in a study conducted by scientists at the University of Sheffield released the nighttime bloodsuckers on themselves and observed the bugs’ feeding habits.  Bedbugs placed on shaved arms were more likely to try to feed than those that...

 

Photo by Darlyne A. Murawski

 

According to new research, having hairy skin may help a person ward off bedbugs.  Participants in a study conducted by scientists at the University of Sheffield released the nighttime bloodsuckers on themselves and observed the bugs’ feeding habits.  Bedbugs placed on shaved arms were more likely to try to feed than those that were placed on unshaven limbs.

Why?  Hair makes it more difficult for bedbugs to find a place to feed, and the nerve endings in follicles help alert us to the presence of intruders.  But thick hair can also make it easier for parasites to hide and harder for hosts to find them. This game of hide-and-seek may be the reason why modern humans have only a fine layer of hair (called vellus) in place of the furry coats that our ancestors sported:  eventually the reduction of parasite-borne diseases outweighed the protective benefits of having more hair.

The full results of the study can be found in the journal Biology Letters.

For all the latest science news, check out the National Geographic’s twice-weekly news rundown, EarthCurrent.

 

About National Geographic Society

The National Geographic Society is a global nonprofit organization that uses the power of science, exploration, education and storytelling to illuminate and protect the wonder of the world. Since 1888, National Geographic has pushed the boundaries of exploration, investing in bold people and transformative ideas, providing more than 14,000 grants for work across all seven continents, reaching 3 million students each year through education offerings, and engaging audiences around the globe through signature experiences, stories and content. To learn more, visit www.nationalgeographic.org or follow us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

Meet the Author

Alyson Foster
Alyson Foster works in the National Geographic Library where she purchases books for the Library’s collection and assists NG staff with finding research materials.