Eastern bloodsucking conenoses are out and about in Kentucky, looking to take blood meals. These Kentucky representatives of the kissing bugs (also known as Triatomids) inspire fear in those who have discovered them. People can be bitten by conenoses, and as kissing bugs, this leads people to wonder if they were exposed to/contracted Chagas disease. Luckily, the chances of Eastern bloodsucking conenoses vectoring Chagas disease are low due to a variety of circumstances that make the conenose different than their close relatives in Triatomidae.
Bloodsucking Conenose Basics
As part of the kissing bug group, these are blood feeding critters (if the name wasn’t a giveaway). Kissing bugs belong to the Hemiptera, also known as true bugs. Hemiptera includes things like aphids, stink bugs, bed bugs, cicadas, and many more. All true bugs have piercing sucking mouthparts and go through incomplete metamorphosis. Conenoses start life as an egg and progress through eight nymphal instars, or stages, to reach adulthood. To go from one stage to the next, they must take a blood meal. The adults are about 3/4 inch long, dark in coloration, and have distinctive orange or red-orange squares on the border of their body.
Kissing bugs get their common name for their penchant of biting their human host near the mouth. In general, this is done when humans are asleep to minimize chance of detection. In addition to biting people, eastern bloodsucking conenoses will dine on frogs, rats, raccoons, cats, and dogs. Because of this, they can be found in tree cavities, near doghouses, and by animal enclosures.
Is there anything to be concerned about?
Kissing bugs as a group are responsible for vectoring the pathogen that causes Chagas disease. This disease is more commonly associated with Central and South America than Eastern North America. In the acute phase of Chagas, which would occur soon after transmission, the CDC describes that the patient may experience fever and/or swelling around the bite site. In chronic cases, those who suffer from Chagas may have heart and digestive tract issues.
Typical vectoring of the Chagas pathogen comes from a kissing bug biting a person and then defecating on the person’s face, often near the bite site. Upon waking, the person may wipe or itch at the bite, which can transfer the pathogen into the wound.
The eastern bloodsucking conenose can and will bite humans, and they can test positive for the pathogen responsible for Chagas. However, they are not classically considered to be competent vectors for Chagas. This is because, unlike their relatives, they tend to not defecate while engaged in feeding or soon after feeding while they are on the sleeping human. Without the infected feces, you should be relatively less likely to acquire Chagas. If you find a conenose in your home, it is extremely unlikely you will end up with Chagas disease. Of course, if you feel concerned or ill please consult with a medical professional!
The eastern bloodsucking conenose can be confused with multiple, more common insects. This can include the ones you see in the diagram below. From left to right, there is the bloodsucking conenose, a wheel bug, a western conifer seed bug, and then a brown marmorated stinkbug. Wheel bugs have a large cog that projects from the top of their thorax that differentiates them from a conenose. Western conifer seed bugs have flattened legs that resemble an oar or paddle. Brown marmorated stink bugs are much lighter in color than the conenose.
Even if you are not at distinct risk of infection, few people enjoy the idea of something drinking their blood while they are asleep. Conenoses are best prevented by using pest proofing methods, such as using caulk to seal cracks and gaps around windows, walls, roofs, and doors; by repairing screens and windows; and by closing holes and cracks leading to the attic/crawl spaces. Conenoses are also attracted to lights and will fly at houses with outdoor lighting. Turning off outdoor lights or changing timers/motion detection can reduce light attraction, as can switching to “bug repellent lightbulbs”. Finally, checking pet or animal domiciles for bugs is also practical.
Those who live near wooded areas are more at risk and should be proactive. You may also need to perform pest control for things like rats, raccoons, etc. that are acting as hosts to the conenose. Insecticides are generally not necessary but pyrethroid products applied to cracks and crevices can be used for serious infestations.
By Jonathan L. Larson, Entomology Extension Specialist