Ron Wilson

Ron Wilson

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Western Conifer Seed Bugs Don't Kiss ... People - Joe Boggs

Rising spring temperatures have been rousing fall home invaders from their winter slumber inside wall voids, attics, etc. The intruders migrated into these spaces last fall through openings around window frames and door jams. Attics with unscreened outdoor vents or poorly fitting soffits can become 5-star bug hotels.


The trespassers are intent on reversing direction this spring. However, they occasionally lose their way and exit indoors rather than outdoors. Home invasions may occur during warm days throughout the winter but typically peak in early spring.


The invading insect menagerie includes the usual suspects. Over the past few weeks, besieged homeowners in Ohio have been dealing with Multicolored Asian Lady Beetles (Harmonia axyridis), Brown Marmorated Stink Bugs (Halyomorpha halys), and Boxelder Bugs (Boisea trivittata) which were once the most common home invader.


Western Conifer Seed Bugs (Leptoglossus occidentalis, order Hemiptera, family Coreidae) are somewhat new to the home invasion scene in Ohio. They’ve long had a deserved reputation for invading homes in the fall; however, compared to the other more notorious home intruders, it was uncommon to find large numbers in homes and other structures in our state. Thus, the bugs may present an identification challenge, but more on that later.


The narrative on this native is rife with discrepancies. Despite the “western” in its common name, the bugs range throughout much of the U.S. and have become increasingly common in Ohio. Although they’re called “seed bugs,” they don’t feed on conifer seeds. Both the adults and nymphs use their piercing-sucking mouthparts to suck sap from developing seed cones.


Western conifer seed bugs are a type of “leaf-footed” bug (family Coreidae); however, it’s not their “feet” (tarsi) that look like leaves. The leafy common name for members of the family is based on leaf-like expansions of their hind tibia.


The family name Coreidae is derived from the Ancient Greek word for the bed bug, but bed bugs (Cimex lectularius) belong to a different family, Cimicidae. Leaf-footed bugs are never called stink bugs (Family Pentatomidae), but some do stink.  Adults of some species of leaf-footed bugs, including the western conifer seed bug, emit a stinky alarm pheromone from glands on their thorax if they are agitated.


Western conifer seed bugs have a wide host range including spruces as well as pines. Their feeding damage distorts cones and destroys developing seeds making them a potential pest in conifer seed plantations. However, the bugs are not considered a significant conifer tree pest in Ohio’s landscapes and forests. Their focus on developing cones means they do not damage the overall health of their conifer hosts.


However, western conifer seed bugs can become a serious nuisance pest in homes surrounded by mature seed-bearing conifers. The bugs will not feed on anything found inside homes. Their mouthparts are designed to pierce cones not people although they may attempt a probing stab with their proboscis if roughly handled. The invading bugs should be gently collected and carefully dispatched to avoid experiencing their stinky defense firsthand. Vacuum cleaners should not be used, particularly those that pass detritus through an impeller (= bug blenders).


Not A Kissing Bug

Unfortunately, some Ohio homeowners have mistaken western conifer seed bugs for Kissing Bugs (Triatoma spp., family Reduviidae). This is not the first time that a “true bug” (order Hemiptera, suborder Heteroptera) has been mistaken for kissing bugs.


Predaceous Wheel Bugs (Arilus cristatus, family Reduviidae) were at the center of a bug hysteria that swept through Ohio as well as several other states in 2015. We continue to receive mistaken identifications when wheel bugs appear on the scene late in the growing season.


The name "kissing bug" doesn’t sound very threatening until you learn that several species belonging to the genus Triatoma tend to bite near a person's mouth like they're kissing a person. These "triatomine bugs" 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. Infection occurs if the protozoan is accidentally rubbed into the bug's feeding wounds or onto mucous membranes such as nasal passages. The resulting Chagas disease is nothing to sneeze at; it can be deadly.


We can sleep soundly in Ohio without worrying about bugs pooping on our faces; however, there is a kissing bug that may be found in the central and southern parts of our state.  Triatoma sanguisuga was given the approved common name of Bloodsucking Conenose by the Entomological Society of America (ESA). The specific epithet, sanguisuga, is drawn from the Latin words sanguis (blood), and sugo (suck). Some may think the common name sounds scary, but I think it sounds like a vampire in need of a nose job.


The bloodsucking conenose does suck blood, but from small animals and not people in Ohio. It’s a rare insect in our state and it’s even rarer to find one in a home.  T. sanguisuga does range across regions in Central America where Chagas is endemic. However, it is not included among species of kissing bugs that are known to be highly effective in delivering the pathogen, T. cruzi, onto sleeping victims.  Apparently, the bloodsucking conenose isn’t much of a face pooper.


Finally, and most importantly, Chagas disease is not endemic to Ohio. Keep in mind that kissing bugs must acquire T. cruzi from a person harboring the pathogenic protozoan. It’s a required step in the disease cycle; breaking any step breaks the disease cycle. Consequently, the chances are immeasurably small that a bloodsucking conenose, an insect rarely found in Ohio, would invade a home to find an individual suffering from Chagas, a disease not endemic to our state.

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