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Forces to pierce cuticle of tarsi and material properties determined by nanoindentation: The Achilles’ heel of bed bugs


The mechanical properties of bed bug (Cimex lectularius L.) tarsi and pretarsi were investigated in order to evaluate their vulnerability to piercing by plant trichomes (sharp microscopic hairs). Nanoindentation was used to measure the force required to insert a sharp probe into the cuticle of these different regions, as well as to determine creep and reduced elastic moduli for the cuticle. Scanning electron microscopy was used to visualize the indents that had been generated by nanoindentation. The force required to insert a cube corner nanoindenter probe into the cuticle was determined for a range of displacements (1 to 9 μm) and strain rates (0.003 to 0.5 s-1). Greater force was required to insert this sharp probe at greater depth or at faster strain rates. A specific region of the pretarsus (membrane with microtrichia) more frequently pierced by trichomes during bed bug locomotion required approximately 20-30% less force, exhibited more creep, and had a lower reduced elastic modulus for the first micron of indentation compared to the other regions; although this pattern was not consistent for greater displacements. These mechanical attributes, which will facilitate the initial stage of puncture in addition to the presence of natural infoldings in the cuticle of this area, may make that area of the pretarsus particularly vulnerable to piercing. This information will help inform development of physical methods for control of insect pests such as bed bugs.

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