This is the second time this season that I’ve posted a BYGL Alert on a Kissing Bug (family Reduviidae, subfamily Triatominae) in Ohio. My first Alert titled “An Ohio Kissing Bug” was posted on April 15 and was generated from receiving an immature (= nymph) bloodsucking conenose collected in a home in Hamilton County, OH. You can read the Alert by clicking on this hotlink: https://bygl.osu.edu/index.php/node/2118
This second Alert is being posted because of the number of pictures and specimens I’ve recently received of adult kissing bugs being found in Ohio homes. The bugs were found in the Ohio Counties of Green, Clermont, and Hamilton. The homeowner in Clermont County found two kissing bugs that she preserved by freezing them allowing me to take some of the images that appear in this Alert.
The kissing bug is Triatoma sanguisuga (family Reduviidae, subfamily Triatominae). The specific epithet, sanguisuga, is drawn from the Latin words sanguis (blood), and sugo (suck). The bug has a horrible-sounding common name approved by the Entomological Society of America: the Bloodsucking Conenose which sounds like a derogatory epithet.
The bloodsucking conenose’s common name comes from its vampire-like feeding behavior and the cone-like structure at the front of their heads. Their piercing-sucking mouthparts are housed in a structure called a beak which is attached to the front of the cone by a hinge. This allows the bug to stow its long beak until it’s ready to swing its mouthparts into action (literally).
Prior to 2010 when a found a bloodsucking conenose in Butler County, I had always thought kissing bugs were confined to South and Central America with a few species found as far north as southern Texas and Arizona. My find was puzzling and begged the question, were the bugs creeping north perhaps due to climate change?
They’re Already Here
Finding a bloodsucking conenose nymph in Ohio means the bugs are reproducing in our state; however, this shouldn’t be surprising. According to a paper published in the Ohio Journal of Science in 1960 titled, "Arthropods of Medical Importance in Ohio," the bloodsucking conenose is endemic to the southern part of our state although it's very rare. So, the bugs aren’t creeping north; they’re already here.
Since 2010, I’ve received pictures or specimens of the bloodsucking conenose from the following counties: Athens (multiple), Butler (multiple), Clermont (multiple), Clinton (1), Greene (1), Hamilton (multiple), and Warren (1). Indeed, this bug ranges from Ohio and 23 other midwestern, eastern, and southern states all the way into South America.
Why Ohioans Worry
Bugs belonging to the Triatominae subfamily (Triatomine bugs) are collectively known as “kissing bugs” although the feeding behavior responsible for the “kissing” part of the name is more accurately associated with members of the genus Triatoma. These bugs tend to bite near a person’s mouth, like a kiss (don’t think about that too much).
They get away with their cheeky behavior by biting people while they sleep. The bites are usually painless but may lead to a serious disease if the bugs are harboring the protozoan Trypanosoma cruzi in their gut.
The bugs don't inject the protozoan when they bite; they release it from their other end when they defecate (don’t think about that too much!). Infection occurs if the protozoan is accidentally rubbed into the bug's feeding wounds or onto mucous membranes such as nasal passages. The resulting protozoan infection is known as Chagas disease or American trypanosomiasis.
Why Ohioans Should NOT Worry
Here are some key points about the bloodsucking conenose and Chagas disease:
1. Be Careful What You Read on the Web: Several online references list the bloodsucking conenose as a known vector of Chagas disease. However, the phrase “possible, but not probable” applies relative to the true threat.
Remember that the bloodsucking conenose has a wide geographical range, from Ohio all the way through Central America and into South America. It’s found in locations where Chagas does not occur all the way to locations where the disease, and thus the infectious protozoan, is common.
2. There’s No Chagas in Ohio: Chagas disease is endemic to South and Central America with some infections occurring as far north as southern Texas. The disease is not endemic to Ohio. This means there is no readily available pool of infected people in our state that the bloodsucking conenose can bite to acquire the infectious protozoan.
3. We’re Not a Bug Host: There are several species of kissing bugs belonging to the genus Triatoma that are well-known for vectoring Chagas disease. They all have one thing in common. These bugs have a close relationship with people: they target us.
The bloodsucking conenose targets small animals. This is even true in Central and South America although the infectious protozoan is so widespread it can even be found in mammals other than humans. So, it’s not surprising that the bloodsucking conenose would test positive for the Chaga protozoan in that part of the world.
4. Accidental Home Invaders: The bloodsucking conenose may wander into homes located near its food or follow its food into homes. Every confirmed report that I’ve received in Ohio about bloodsucking conenoses coming into a home had one thing in common. The homes were located in a wooded area where we would expect there to be large numbers of small wild animals (= conenose food). Indeed, the homeowners in several affected homes reported they were battling mice coming into their homes.
What Should Ohioans Do?
1. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of worry. Potential bug entry points should be caulked or otherwise closed. This includes sealing gaps around doors and windows as well as closing holes in attics, basements, or crawl spaces.
2. Homeowners living in or near wooded areas should be on high alert for small furry friends seeking to share their domicile, particularly if a bloodsucking conenose is found on the hunt inside the home. Homeowners should react quickly by taking direct action, for example, if mice are a problem inside the home, and taking indirect action by removing debris or thick vegetation near the home that may harbor small animals.
3. The bloodsucking conenose is a relatively rare insect. Thus, insecticide applications are not typically needed particularly if steps 1 and 2 are followed.
Several other insects may be mistaken for adult bloodsucking conenose bugs, most commonly adult Wheel Bugs (Arilus cristatus, family Reduviidae (assassin bugs). Their common name comes from the cogwheel-like structure on top of their thorax.
Adult Western Conifer Seed Bugs (Leptoglossus occidentalis) may also be mistaken for kissing bugs owing to their size and general body shape. These bugs overwinter as adults and produce nymphs in early summer. New adults develop in late summer and are notorious home invaders as they seek protected winter quarters. However, note the expanded tibia which makes this a type of "leaf-footed" bug.
Boxelder Bugs (Boisea trivittata) may also seek protected winter quarters inside homes including attics and beneath siding. They are another notorious accidental home invader in the fall as they seek cozy winter quarters or in the spring when they emerge from their winter abodes.
Although they are much smaller than kissing bug adults, their body shape and reddish-orange markings make them a candidate for being a kissing bug look-a-like. Note the three stripes on the prothorax which are referenced in the specific epithet, trivittata, which means "three-striped."