Page last updated at 08:42 GMT, Thursday, 29 May 2008 09:42 UK

Bug used to suck zoo animal blood

Kissing bug on a giraffe. Images by London Zoo
A kissing bug sucking blood from a giraffe

A bloodsucking insect is being used to collect blood samples from animals at zoos, London Zoo has said.

Kissing bugs crawl onto the animal and release a pain-reducing enzyme as they bite and suck the blood from veins.

The "stress-free" method simplifies collecting blood from animals, who do not have to be sedated, the zoo said.

The pilot project, which is underway at London and Whipsnade zoos, has seen blood collected from a hippo, cheetah, giraffe, elephant and white rhino.

The "non-invasive" method is expected to make collecting blood samples from small animals easier as their size makes veins inaccessible.

The scheme is part of a study by Wuppertal Zoo in Germany and the insects are bred in a laboratory there.

Kissing bug on a tapir. Images by London Zoo
A kissing bug on a tapir

The procedure has been tried on 32 species of zoo animals since the project was launched in Germany.

London Zoo's veterinary officer Tim Bouts said: "This pioneering procedure means we can take a stress-free blood sample from an animal that we would otherwise need to sedate or anaesthetise.

"The process is non-invasive and painless for the animal.

"It might take somewhere between 10 and 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 humanely killed after the blood samples are collected.

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