BBC: Body Hair Helps Fend Off Bed Bugs

All these years of shaving or waxing or bleaching or plucking — wouldn't it be nice to think that unwanted body hair might actually serve some purpose?

The BBC headline today is "Hairy Limbs Keep Bed Bugs At Bay," and it cites a Sheffield University study published in the journal Biology Letters. "Hungry bugs placed on shaved arms were more likely to try to feed compared with those on unshaved arms," it reports; and, "Researchers say the hair slows down the bed bugs and warns the victim."

So the more hair, the better, right? (Which would also suggest that we brunettes tend to be more favored by evolution than blondes, would it not?) Not so fast, says Sheffield Prof. Michael Siva-Jothy.

The BBC reports:

However, even though men are naturally hairier than women, they do not appear to be bitten less often.

Professor Siva-Jothy suggested this pointed to an evolutionary battle between bed bugs and their prey, with the insects adapting to automatically head for relatively hairless bits of the body, such as wrists and ankles.

He added that extreme hairiness might also be more of a disadvantage than an advantage.

"If you have a heavy coat of long thick hairs it is easier for parasites to hide, even if you can detect them.

Read further in the BBC piece for a bit of the interesting debate on why humans have such paltry hair compared with other mammals. And if you live in New York City, where bedbugs have been a particular problem lately, let us know if you plan to stop shaving your legs.

This program aired on December 14, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.

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Carey Goldberg Editor, CommonHealth
Carey Goldberg is the editor of WBUR's CommonHealth section.



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