Kissing Bugs

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The page below is a sample from the LabCE course Arthropods and the Clinical Laboratory. Access the complete course and earn ASCLS P.A.C.E.-approved continuing education credits by subscribing online.

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Kissing Bugs

Kissing bugs are members of the order Hemiptera and the genus Triatoma. They have been associated with transmission of the parasite, Trypanosoma cruzi, causing Chagas Disease. (Chagas Disease symptoms include fever, eyelid swelling, headache, and splenomegaly, and lead to serious heart, gastrointestinal, or neurologic complications.)
  • Kissing bugs are black or brown, some having orange and black markings on the abdomen.
  • Typically 1-3 cm in length.
  • Antennae are four-segmented.
  • The head is constricted and looks like a neck.
  • The mouthparts region is called a beak and is three-segmented.
  • Simple eyes and compound eyes are present.
  • Triatomine bugs are also known as cone-nosed bugs (and bloodsuckers) and are typically found in the southern United States, Mexico, Central America, and South America. Eleven different species have been found in the southern US.
  • Mostly active at night, feeding on the blood of mammals (including humans), birds, and reptiles.
The map below details triatomine occurrence by U.S. state (CDC).21
21. Triatomine bug (Kissing bug and Chagas disease, vector of Trypanosoma cruzi.). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Map of US, 11 species, images. April 2022. Accessed June 1, 2022.
22. CDC. Image# 21383. "The live insect depicted here, in this dorsal view, was a species of Triatoma, or kissing bug, able to transmit the protozoan pathogen, Trypanosoma cruzi, which causes the incurable illness known as Chagas disease." PHIL public domain. Created 1965.

Dorsal view of Triatoma, or kissing bug. (22)