Most recently reviewed by: Holly Davis & Dalton Ludwick (1970)
Common Name(s): Conenose bug, Kissing bug
Kissing bugs are members of the Order Heteroptera, or true bugs, and the family Reduviidae. Unlike the other groups in this family, kissing bugs have a distinctly narrow and elongated head, and that is one of the first things to look for in trying to determine whether you are looking at a kissing bug. Body colors vary somewhat, but the common thread is that they are all dark brown to black with orange to red to yellow markings on the outer edges of the body when viewed from above. Adults can be 1 to 1.5 inches in length.
All members of the family Reduviidae can bite, and they all have a relatively short 3-segmented beak that can fit in a small groove between their front legs. Most Reduviids feed on other insects and are considered to be beneficial insects. Kissing bugs, however, feed on warm blooded animals and can transmit the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi that causes Chagas disease. This disease is found in the US and throughout central and South America. Parasite transmission does not occur through the action of feeding, it occurs when insect fecal matter enters a wound, such as the site of the insect bite. Transmission can also occur across mucus membranes of the nose or mouth. (Dogs can be infected by eating kissing bugs.)
Recent studies have shown that approximately 55% of kissing bugs in Texas are infected with the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi.
See the Management section below for what to do if you think you have found a kissing bug. There are many insects that look like kissing bugs but are not. The Kissing Bug Lab at the TAMU Veterinary School has a nice page of images of some of these “not kissing bugs”.
Origin and Distribution
In the United States, kissing bugs are found in the southern half of the country, roughly in California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and all states to the south of these. There are 11 kissing bug species in the US, and Texas, New Mexico and Arizona have the widest species diversity. The number of cases of Chagas disease in the US is unknown, but estimates range from 300,000 to over 1 million. In Texas there is particular concern for areas along the US/Mexico border.
Habitat & Hosts
All kissing bugs are blood feeders in their nymphal stages and as adults. They feed on many warm blooded animals including rodents, dogs, wild mammals and humans. Other food hosts of kissing bugs (and carriers of T. cruzi) include opossums, bats, cats, woodrats, armadillos, coyotes, mice, raccoons, skunks and foxes, although it is not known whether all these species actually develop Chagas disease.
Our website kissingbug.tamu.edu has a special note about dogs. “Dog kennels are environments that may be particularly suitable for the establishment of Chagas disease transmission cycles. High densities of dogs in confined areas are associated with heat and carbon dioxide that attract kissing bugs that seek bloodmeals. Furthermore, dogs may easily consume kissing bugs in kennels. Kissing bug control can be difficult in kennels, particularly in areas where human development is relatively recent and kennels are surrounded by natural habitats where wildlife occur.”
Kissing bug bites often do not hurt when the biting is in progress. The bugs are generally unable to bite through clothing, and on humans sometimes feed on tender skin of the face (which is why they are called kissing bugs). Other feeding sites include hands, arms, feet, head and body trunk.
Reactions to bites are highly variable in humans. For some people the bites go unnoticed, some develop reddened areas, and the reactions can be worse and include anaphylactic shock. In all cases of a suspected bite by a kissing bug, contact your physician.
True bugs have an egg stage, several nymphal stages wherein the nymphs look like wingless smaller versions of the adults, and an adult stage. Kissing bugs have five nymphal stages and there is no pupal stage. Adult kissing bugs are good fliers and fly at night to find mates and animals for blood feeding. Additionally, they are attracted to lights during these night flights.
ManagementIf you live in the State of Texas, contact your local county agent or entomologist for management information. If you live outside of Texas, contact your local extension for management options.
THE FOLLOWING SERVICES ARE ONLY AVAILABLE TO RESIDENTS OF TEXAS. If you think you have found a kissing bug, don’t touch it with your bare hands. Snap a photo and send it to https://askanentomologist.tamu.edu/insect-id-form/, or collect the actual insect and contact the Kissing Bug Lab in the Veterinary School at College Station. The instructions on how to do this are here. Once you are sure the insect is a kissing bug you can submit the bug to the Department of State Health Services where they can test it to see if it was carrying T. cruzi. Here is the information on collection and testing at the Dept. of State Health Services.
Our companion publication on kissing bugs was written by Dr. Mike Merchant, and here is his text about control. “Conenose bugs are nocturnal and may be attracted to nighttime lights. In this way, solitary individuals may enter a home. A single conenose bug in the home is not necessarily cause for alarm. However the presence of nymphs (unwinged bugs) or numerous adult conenose bugs in your home suggested that a breeding population may be established nearby. Under these circumstances control may be justified.
Conenose bug infestations are likely to be more common in poorly constructed homes. Good sanitation and tight building construction tends to limit conenose bug infestations. Destroy trash piles, bird and animal nests and burrows. Control and exclude rodents and birds from the house. Seal exterior cracks and openings into buildings and keep chimney flues closed tightly. Inspect and seal any openings from crawl spaces into the house sub-flooring. Check pets for signs of feeding and examine pet houses.
Insecticides can effectively control conenose bugs. Treat room corners and edges, window and door frames, pet houses, and other suspected entry points with a pesticide labeled for these sites. Few household insecticides are labeled specifically for use against conenose bug; however products intended for indoor use against cockroaches or other indoor pests can be used. Look for products containing one of the pyrethroid insecticides: permethrin, bifenthrin, cyfluthrin, esfenvalerate or lambda cyhalothrin.
Consider using a licensed pest control professional for conenose bug control. Besides their experience in treating insect problems, professionals are better suited to assist you with control of possible rodent or pest bird problems. A professional can also point out ways to pest proof your home. The most effective professional products for conenose bug control include wettable powder or microencapsulated formulations of pyrethroid insecticides such as cypermethrin, lambda-cyhalothrin, deltamethrin, or cyfluthrin.”
https://kissingbug.tamu.edu. Texas A&M University Kissing Bug Website
Conenose or Kissing Bugs. Insect in the City, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension.