Kissing bugs are in news stories that imply the bugs are recent discoveries. However, these insects are relatively widespread (Figure 1). At least 11 species occur in the U.S.; most are limited to southwestern states. The eastern bloodsucking conenose bug (ECN) (Triatoma sanguisuga) (Figure 2) is the most widely distributed species. This insect is probably present throughout Kentucky, but known encounters have been very rare. In approximately the last 30 years, the only documented specimens in the University of Kentucky database have been from Adair, Caldwell, Fayette, and Franklin counties. All were found in homes or structures, but no bites were reported.
Habitats and Habits
ECN typically inhabit wooded areas where they hide in and around animal nests or burrows. There are two main ways that they become accidental invaders in home and structures:
1) Adults fly to lights and can enter through gaps or cracks around doors or windows.
2) Bugs may come from nearby nests or burrows that have been abandoned.
ECN hide during the day and feed at night on a variety of animals and humans. Bites on humans are often near the mouth or eyes. While the insects are called “deadly,” bites are similar to bad mosquito bites that tend to swell, itch for a time, and clear. Health issues occur only if the bugs are carrying the pathogen that causes Chagas disease, which is endemic in much of Latin America and has chronic, not acute effects. Bugs can acquire the pathogen (trypanosomes) from infected hosts (raccoons, chickens, rats, etc.), but this is rare.
If you suspect you have found a kissing bug, capture it in a closed container and take it to your local Cooperative Extension Service office or health department. The wheel bug (Figure 3) and the leaf-footed bug (Figure 4) are two common Kentucky insects that can be mistaken for kissing bugs.
By Lee Townsend, Extension Entomologist