Blood suckers to the rescue
Thursday 29 May 2008
Revolutionary painless technique for blood sampling zoo animals. A team of bloodthirsty assistants are helping vets at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) carry out routine health checks on animals at ZSL London and Whipsnade Zoos.
Kissing bugs (Dipetalogaster maxima) are being employed by the ZSL veterinary team, as part of a revolutionary pilot project, to suck blood samples from animals who would normally need to be anaesthetised before undergoing this simple procedure.
You wouldn’t really want to kiss these bugs though, which feed on blood from animals by piercing the skin - releasing pain-reducing substances so the host is unaware of the procedure.
So far, kissing bugs have successfully taken blood samples from a hippo, cheetah, giraffe, elephant and white rhino at ZSL.
ZSL Veterinary Officer, Tim Bouts, said: “This pioneering procedure means we can take a stress-free blood sample from an animal that we otherwise would need to sedate or anaesthetise.
“The process is non-invasive and painless for the animal. It might take somewhere between 10-30 minutes to get a decent sample dependent on how hungry the bug is, how quickly it finds a blood capillary and how thick the skin of its host is."
The bugs are bred and screened in Germany before use to ensure they do not carry diseases that are transferable to the animals.
This innovative practice of obtaining blood samples without causing stress to animals forms part of a study by curator André Stadler from the Wuppertal Zoo in Germany, researching the use and effectiveness of kissing bugs in zoo species.
This species of kissing bugs, Dipetalogaster maxima, is suitable for this work because they inhabit a foggy desert in South-West Mexico where food is scarce, meaning they have to take every opportunity to feed and make sure they feed quickly.
The use of kissing bugs may also provide a means to collect blood samples from species that have proven difficult to sample by conventional approaches, including smaller animals where veins are inaccessible.
ZSL is leading the way in introducing this gentle and less invasive method, which will reduce the stress placed on large animals normally anaesthetised for blood sampling procedures.
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Notes to editors
- ZSL Veterinary Officer Tim Bouts is available for interview – contact Kendall Munns (ZSL Press Officer) to arrange details.
- High resolution photos of kissing bugs obtaining blood samples from zoo animals, including an elephant, seal, tapir, okapi and giraffe are available on request.
- The study was undertaken by André Stadler from Wuppertal Zoo in Germany. The complete German study “Non-invasive use of Dipetalogaster maxima for obtaining blood samples from zoo animals” or English abstract are available on request. The kissing bugs have so far been tested on 32 species of zoo animals.
- The kissing bugs are bred standard pathogen free (SPF free) in a laboratory in Germany to ensure they do not carry any diseases that are transferable to the animals
- Adult kissing bugs range from 4 to 40 millimetres and have an elongated head with a distinct narrowed neck, long legs, and a prominent, segmented "beak" (proboscis). Most species are dark in colour with hues of brown, black, red, or orange.
- Dipetalogaster maxima (Reduviidae, Heteroptera) punctures the skin with its proboscis and then starts to suck blood. Immediately after the initial sting, the bug releases pain-reducing substances so that the host does not notice the parasite (von Helversen et al. 1986).
- Founded in 1826, the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) is an international scientific, conservation and educational charity: our key role is the conservation of animals and their habitats. The Society runs ZSL London Zoo and ZSL Whipsnade Zoo, carries out scientific research in the Institute of Zoology and is actively involved in field conservation in other countries worldwide
Interviews with Tim Bouts available on request (between 1- 5pm)
Press contact: Kendall Munns, ZSL Press Office, 020 7449 6241 email@example.com
High resolution photos available.