Kissing Bugs

Last updated: November 15, 2022
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
Image Credit Henrik Larsson/Shutterstock.com

Kissing bugs derive their name from the location they prefer to bite, which is usually close to the lips of the host

Kissing Bugs Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Arthropoda
Class
Insecta
Order
Hemiptera
Family
Reduviidae

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Kissing Bugs Conservation Status


Kissing Bugs Facts

Prey
Vertebrates
Name Of Young
Nymph
Group Behavior
  • Infestation
Fun Fact
Kissing bugs derive their name from the location they prefer to bite, which is usually close to the lips of the host
Most Distinctive Feature
Oval-shaped body
Other Name(s)
Chinches, barbeiros, pitos, vinchucas, and chipos
Incubation Period
3 to 5 weeks
Habitat
Rainforests, nests, gardens, foliage, and homes
Predators
Rodents, snakes, insects, and praying mantis
Diet
Carnivore
Average Litter Size
10 to 30 eggs
Lifestyle
  • Nocturnal
Favorite Food
Blood
Common Name
Kissing bug
Number Of Species
142
Location
World wide

Kissing Bugs Physical Characteristics

Color
  • Brown
  • Black
Skin Type
Exoskeleton
Lifespan
1 to 2 years
Length
1 inch

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Kissing bugs are members of the Reduviidae family, and they originate from Central America. However, presently, they occur on every continent except Antarctica. This family includes a massive group of closely related insects, around 7000 species.

Every species in this family share a characteristic: its sharp-tipped, curvy mouth, referred to as a three-segmented beak. This unique beak helps these insects kill their prey.

These bugs are ambush predators, so they lay in waiting until prey comes close, and then they entrap them using strategic planning and tactics.

Kissing bugs vary in color; for example, some are bright, and others possess showy accents. But, generally, they are brown, red, orange, green, or black in color.

Kissing Bug Species, Types, and Scientific Name

The kissing bug has many names, including chinches, barbeiros, pitos, vinchucas, and chipos. There are around 130 species within the subfamily that feed on vertebrate blood. However, there are very few species that drink blood from invertebrates.

To make their lives easier, kissing bugs share shelter with nesting vertebrates while they suck on their blood like the little parasites they are.

The scientific name for kissing bugs differs depending on the specie. There are 11 species of these insects in the USA; they include:

  • Paratriatoma hirsuta
  • Triatoma gerstaeckeri
  • Triatoma incrassata
  • Triatoma indictiva
  • Triatoma lecticularia
  • Triatoma neotomae
  • Triatoma protracta
  • Triatoma recurva
  • Triatoma rubida
  • Triatoma rubrofasciata
  • Triatoma sanguisuga

These bugs belong to the order Hemiptera, and they fall under the category of True bugs. This order is incredibly large and diverse; they are found across the globe and can adapt to almost any habitat.

For example, there are approximately 80,000 species and 37 families in Hemiptera, which is divided into three subfamilies, namely, semiaquatic or shore-inhabiting bugs (Amphibicorizae), terrestrial bugs ( Geocorizae), and aquatic bugs (Hydrocorizae).

This family greatly impacts agriculture and can cause irreparable damage to plants by passing on diseases and herbivory. However, farmers also use predatory Hemiptera species to control other pests in agricultural systems.

Appearance: How To Identify the Kissing Bug

assassin bug isolated on white background
Assassin bugs are also known as kissing bugs.

yod 67/Shutterstock.com

There are approximately 149 species of kissing bugs, and they each have their own characteristics and come in various colors; however, generally, they are brown or black. Their mouthparts are covered in short hairs that grow longer on the tips.

In addition, they have pronotum uniformly, a prominent plate-like shield covering some or all of the thorax, which is light brown or black. The tips of the kissing bug’s scutellum, legs, and stout are all short and broad. And finally, these bugs are usually around an inch long.

Habitat: Where to Find the Kissing Bug

While these bugs occur globally, they are abundant in North and Central America, South America, Africa, Europe, and parts of Asia. In fact, there are 11 different species in the USA alone.

These bugs are adaptable and can live in almost any habitat, but they are generally found in rainforests, nests, gardens, foliage, and homes.

Diet: What Does the Kissing Bug Eat?

Kissing bugs do not live up to their name as they are not gentle, loving insects. Instead, these bugs are voracious pests and prey on animals like caterpillars, leafhoppers, and many other medium-sized insects. In addition, they suck the blood of vertebrates.

But they also fall prey to:

However, kissing bugs have a great defense mechanism called a stridulatory organ, which vibrates when they are in distress, which seems to deter predators. In addition, they use their sharp beaks to pierce the threat, injecting them with poison.

When hunting, the kissing bug injects its prey with its poisonous saliva, causing the victim’s internal organs to liquefy, which they proceed to suck out of the body. In addition, some species have tiny hairs on their legs, preventing prey from escaping.

Kissing Bug Behavior

These blood-sucking insects are nocturnal because it’s easier to prey on victims who are sleeping. Other behavioral traits include:

  • Kissing bugs are attracted to the body heat and breath of animals and humans
  • Just like moths, they are drawn to light
  • They release a horrible-smelling pheromone for defensive purposes
  • It’s not unusual for hosts to have up to 15 bites around their eyes or mouths.
  • It does not hurt when kissing bugs bite their hosts

Life Cycle of the Kissing Bug

Kissing bugs will lay their eggs in late summer or early fall. Adults will disperse at night and find rodent burrows or dens to lay their eggs. Nymphs hatch after 3 to 5 weeks and have to pass through 5 stages before maturing in adults. Each stage requires the nymphs to indulge in a full-blood meal before developing into the next stage.

They can drink their fill quite quickly, with feeding lasting around 10 to 30 minutes. These bugs can consume 1 to 5 times their bodies’ weight in blood and need to feed every  7  to 14 days in warm temperatures when hosts are available.

Kissing bugs have a lifespan of around 1 to 2 years, spending their winters as nymphs and eventually morphing into adults by the summer.

Females can produce 10-30 eggs between meals, and these bugs can lay up to 1000 eggs in a lifetime; however, the average number is closer to 200. While adults can fly, immature kissing bugs must crawl to find blood sources.

Is the Kissing Bug Dangerous to Humans?

The kissing bug is one of the main carriers of a parasite called Trypanosoma cruzi, and when a host is infected, it causes Chagas disease. Other animals like skunks and raccoons also carry this parasite; however, they cannot transmit it to humans, but the kissing bug can. However, these bugs can’t infect their hosts with this parasite by just biting them.

This disease has two phases; most people only experience the acute phase, which occurs right after transmission. The symptoms for this stage include aches, fever, swelling around the bite, and fever. But one of the most identifiable symptoms of this phase is puffy eyelids.

Kissing bugs derive their name from the location they prefer to bite, which is usually close to the lips of the host. They usually defecate while feeding and can only transmit the parasite if their feces infect the bite site or are accidentally rubbed into a mucus membrane, like the eyes. So, if you feel a bite, try not to rub it, as you could land up infecting yourself!

Most people go into remission after this phase, and the disease will not return. But 1/3 of patients experience the second stage, called the chronic phase. If patients do not seek help, it could affect their lives for years to come. Symptoms include:

  • Chronic stomach and digestive issues
  • Increased risk of strokes
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Enlarged heart

Chagas Disease Treatment

Unfortunately, Chagas disease is not well known in the USA, and very few patients are diagnosed or treated for this disease. However, doctors will usually prescribe antiparasitic drugs like Lampit (nifurtimox) and benznidazole if someone is diagnosed with this condition.

These medications will kill the parasites and prevent the development of the chronic phase, which is untreatable. So it’s essential to catch this disease early to prevent this from happening.

Doctors will sometimes prescribe antiparasitics to people in the chronic phase, but this medication will never cure them. However, it could slow the illness’s progression and help prevent life-threatening health conditions.

How to Prevent Kissing Bugs

  • Install an insecticide-coated net over your bed.
  • Use insecticides to kill them
  • Apply insect repellent on your skin
  • Use silicone-based caulk to seal off any cracks or crevices in your home
  • Do not leave debris within 20 feet of your home
  • Use insecticidal solution or bleach to clean the surfaces in your home
  • Hire an exterminator

Never touch kissing beetles; if you need to pick one up for some crazy reason, use gloves.

Insects that Look Similar to Kissing Bugs

It’s good to know the difference between an innocent insect in your home and garden and a blood-sucking bug that can infect you with a dangerous parasite. Unfortunately, there are several insects that look almost identical to the kissing bug; they include:

Leaf-Footed Bugs

Leaf footed bug
The leaf-footed bug has several body shapes, but some resemble the kissing bug’s oval-like body, and others have long, slender bodies.

Sanjay M Dalvi/Shutterstock.com

The leaf-footed bug has several body shapes, but some resemble the kissing bug’s oval-like body, and others have long, slender bodies. However, their coloring is similar.

They camouflage into the tree bark with their gray-brown color. In addition, they have elongated mouthpieces that closely resemble the kissing bug. They use this long mouthpiece to prick flowers or fruits and suck out the juices.

Unlike the kissing bug, leaf-footed bugs are herbivores and eat tree sap. This is ideal as they can remain undetected as they feed.

In addition, these insects are attracted to squash, and they are often referred to as the squash bug in certain regions of North America.

Leaf-footed bugs are a potential threat to tomato crops, but preventative measures have proven successful. Farmers have mastered the art of getting rid of these bugs by getting spots where they like to overwinter.

Stink Bugs

What Do Stink Bugs Eat - Stink Bug Eating
The feature that mostly resembles the kissing bug is their elongated mouthparts, which they use to suck juices from fruit and flowers.

Jay Ondreicka/Shutterstock.com

Stink bugs are also known by the name shield bugs because their shape looks like a shield. There are various types that are distinguished by their coloring, which ranges from different shades of green and brown.

However, the feature that mostly resembles the kissing bug is their elongated mouthparts, which they use to suck juices from fruit and flowers.

Stink bugs originated in North America, but today, they inhabit most of the world. They are different from kissing bugs as they are omnivores, and while they do eat smaller insects, stink bugs don’t need to drink blood to survive.

Stink bugs are unwelcome guests in most gardens because when they feed on a plant or flower, it causes discoloration.

Plant Bugs

Plant Bug
These bugs have elongated, oval-shaped bodies that closely resemble the kissing bug but have different coloring.

Prem Madhavani/Shutterstock.com

Plant bugs are members of the Miridae family, which forms part of the genus Heteroptera. Another name for these fascinating insects is the leaf bug.

These bugs have elongated, oval-shaped bodies that closely resemble the kissing bug but have different coloring. Their bodies are covered in yellow, white, brown, or black patterns, which is the complete opposite of the primarily black kissing bug.

Another difference between these two insects is their antennas. Kissing bugs have a six-segmented antenna, while plant bugs have a four-segmented antenna.

In addition, plant bugs have round-shaped heads, but the kissing bug’s head is elongated, which is a great way to distinguish between the two.

However, to the untrained eye, it’s tough to tell them apart, and it doesn’t help that these two insects occur in the same habitat in certain regions of the globe. In fact, there are over 2,000 species of plant bugs distributed across North America.

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About the Author

I am a 33-year-old creative and professional writer from South Africa. Wildlife is one of my greatest passions and led me to become the writer I am today. I was very blessed to work with an abundance of wildlife (mainly big cats) and captured my unique experiences in writing. But I wanted to take it further, and I ventured into the freelancing world. Now, I get to spend my days writing about animals; what could be better?

Kissing Bugs FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Why are they called kissing bugs?

Kissing bugs derive their name from the location they prefer to bite, which is usually close to the lips of the host.

Where are kissing bugs found?

While these bugs occur globally, they are abundant in North and Central America, South America, Africa, Europe, and parts of Asia. In fact, there are 11 different species in the USA alone.

What attracts the kissing bug?

Kissing bugs are attracted to the body heat and breath of animals and humans, and just like moths, they are drawn to light.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.

Sources
  1. Healthline, Available here: https://www.healthline.com/health/kissing-bug-bite#when-to-see-a-doctor
  2. Wikipedia, Available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triatominae#Tribes,_genera,_and_numbers_of_described_species
  3. Discover Life, Available here: https://www.discoverlife.org/mp/20q?search=hemiptera
  4. Kidadl, Available here: https://kidadl.com/facts/animals/reduviidae-facts
  5. Pest World, Available here: https://www.pestworld.org/pest-guide/other-pests/kissing-bugs/

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