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Kissing Bug

Summary: The Kissing bug belongs to a family of insects with over 130 species. Only one of the species, a South American variety, is known to regularly feed off the lips of its victims.

The name “Kissing bug” has nothing to do with Valentine's Day, but refers to any number of insects that are members of the subfamily of Reduviidae. These insects are also called assassin bugs, conenose bugs, Mexican bedbug, wheel bugs or triatomines. Take your pick. There are more than 130 species worldwide of these vertebrate blood feeders from which to choose. Over 30 can be found in the U.S., mostly in states with warmer climates.


Some say this bug got its name because of its habit of feeding off the face of its sleeping victims. That's sort of correct, but more specifically, the name “Kissing bug” refers to a South American species that often bites its human victims on their lips while they are sleeping. The bite of the South American species is associated with Chaga's Disease. Most of us will never come in contact with the South American species so our reactions to Kissing bug bites will be similar to any insect bite. Kissing bug wounds are grouped together and may number from two to fifteen bites found mostly on hands, arms, feet, head and body trunk, in that order.

And while we are on the topic of “biting”, it is good to know that these insects are only capable of sucking. They have no mouthparts that open and close like chewing mammals, but the feeding wounds are still called “bites.” It's a technicality, but I thought I'd point that out. Interestingly, Kissing bugs do not feed through clothing. They look for exposed skin, then position themselves next to your body, rather than climbing on you, then touch you only with their mouth parts, feeding for about eight to fifteen minutes.

Most insects of this species nest together during the day and search for a blood meal at night. They are sensitive to the odors mammals give off from skin, hair and various glands. They can also pick up on the carbon dioxide we have in our breath when we exhale. But, don't start worrying just yet. The Kissing bug's normal environment is outside living happily off of opossum, raccoons, armadillos and wood rats. Humans are most likely to encounter these insects in natural environments rather than the cultivated landscapes we find around our homes. That said, they will happily feed off domestic pet, too. So, when Fido goes bounding off into the woods he could come in contact with this insect can carry it back into the house. Even so, these insects will not set up shop and be considered an infestation. An encounter is usually a single incident.

Kissing bug feeding

The Kissing bug can find its way into our lives even if our pets do not serve as the transportation. It can be carried inside in firewood. It is capable of flying and is attracted to light, so porch lights serve as a beacon, drawing the Kissing bug out from its hiding places. Once on your porch, in the early morning as temperatures start to rise it searches for a place to getout of the sun and the heat of the day. Like many insects, it can sense the presence of cool air such as the air that leaks from under doors or around windows. Once they find their way inside they move away from the light, hiding in or under furniture or in closets.

With the many species of Kissing bugs it is impossible to give a single description, but usually adults range in size from one-half to one inch long. Their bodies are flat and broad. They can have various markings on the abdomen. Heads are cone-shaped and elongated. Their beaks are tapered and thin. It has wings that it folds across its back that make the wings difficult to notice. They produce a pungent odor when disturbed, similar to stink bugs.

Now, here is something really cool about these insects. Some zoo keeper in England have developed a program where they are using the Kissing bug to collect blood samples from animals that otherwise would have to be sedated to perform the task. Instead of subjecting the animals to the stress and complications of putting them “under”, Kissing bugs raised in a sterile environment, are released to do their duty. The animal feels nothing and when the Kissing bug moves away from its blood host it is recaptured and the blood is collected. The Kissing bug gives its life for a worthy cause.

In case you are wondering, yes, there are groups protesting the inhumane treatment of the Kissing bug.

Click here for more articles on stink bugs.

Ask Rick A Question


25 May 2014, 23:43
My 8 year old son got bit on his legs and had a severe allergic reaction. It's been. Week and his rash is barely going away. We live in Tucson out in the desert and I'm terrified that my four month old will get bit and have a reaction as well. I just watched two crawl in my windows. I don't know what else to do.
26 Jun 2014, 13:30
Starting about 2 years ago my husband began getting bit by these insects. He also has a server allergic reaction. He is fed up and wants to move, but I am wondering if we will move in vain because it seems like they are everywhere. We live in S. California and we see them almost everyday during the spring and summer. I have a 3 year old and am terrified she will get bit and have the same reaction as my husband. If so, she may die!! if you get chagas disease, you wont even know until tis too late and the treatment is very toxic as well. if you have been bitten, get a blood test asap! This disease "is considered one of the neglected parasitic infections (NPI), a group of five parasitic diseases that have been targeted by CDC for public health action". It causes many deaths and I think we should start urging for action and prevention of this.
16 Sep 2014, 23:30
Are the kissing bugs in Texas area? What kind of insecticide will work to kill them?
01 Oct 2014, 20:38
Noticed quite an infestation of kissing bugs (or looks like) on the south side of the house im staying at in Bellevue, WA (not too far from Lake Samammish). I've wacked several of them and found one trying to find residence next to the room I am staying in (he saw the vacuum). I saw about 4 outside this late afternoon, I wacked 3 of them then saw about 8 more landed on the house (wood siding). Should we be seeing kissing bugs like this in the Seattle (Bellevue) area? What should I do, should I call the authorities?
13 Nov 2014, 01:18
I saw something small and black in my kitchen and when I went to squash it jumped/flew away. It did this a few times and I didn't get to have a good look at it as I jumped away from it but I sprayed it with a soap detergent solution that we have been using to kill little cockroaches until the exterminator returns. Could this be a kissing bug? Will the solution kill it like the roaches? I sprayed it more than once. Please help.
Susan Patterson
23 Dec 2014, 08:38
Is it possible to have lasting numbness from a kissing bug bite? I got bitten 2 weeks ago on my toe with the swelling and itching, but the numbness has never gone away.
22 Jan 2015, 18:17
Hey... I been getting bit up in my room at night time....idk what kind of bug Is biting me but I've got bitten on my eye lid,arms,ankles,and body and fingers...I just want to know if you knoe any exterminator I can contact to see of they can come out and get rid of them like I have a little dog...but idk how or where to find these pest...its gotten worst for the past month I have been getting bit or maybe week's....but I live in Philadelphia pa south Philadelphia and just would like to know if you know anyone I could contact because this internet thing isnt helping me find..them...I just dont know how to stop the bites swoll up they itch burn a little and red and round...and it's just getting worse...I just dont know what kind of bug it could be could you please help
17 May 2015, 22:37
I just read a paper from the state agriculture dept. They say not to even touch these bugs. Use gloves or plastic bag to move them if you need to. Wash any surface the bug touched with bleach solution. And, all I have read says do not smash the bug or you can spread the feces. We should dump them into a solution that kills them.
12 Jun 2015, 11:48
I live outside of Tucson rural area. We get kissing bugs mostly during the monsoon season which seems to have started early this year. I was told they breed in pack rat feces. We remove/destroy the pack rat nests and do not leave lights on at night.Kiessing bugs are sneaky. I can tell by the sound they make when they land that it is a kissing bug landing. It is a definite "plop" sound.
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