Common Name: Kissing bug, conenose bug, masked hunter
Scientific Name: Triatoma sp.
Description: These species appear similar and both occur in and around dwellings. Adults are 6/8 inch long, flattened insects with elongated, cone-shaped heads bearing a pair of five to six-segmented, elbowed antennae and a prominent “beak” (proboscis). The beak of Triatoma is more tapered, slender and straighter than that of Reduvius. Their bodies are dark brown to black, but the abdomen of the bloodsucking conenose is widened, with flattened sides sticking out beyond the margins of the wings and marked with six equally-spaced reddish-orange spots.
Bites of kissing bugs are occasionally misdiagnosed as “spider bites.” The wheel bug, Arilus cristatus (Linnaeus), will also produce a painful bite if handled recklessly. Bed bugs, Cimex lectularius Linnaeus (Heteroptera: Cimicidae), also feed on human blood, but are not closely related to kissing bugs and are seldom encountered today. These bugs are wingless, grow to be about 1/4 inch long and have oval, flattened, brown bodies. The common bed bug, (C. lectularius Linnaeus) feeds on human blood, feeding at night and hiding during the day in cracks and crevices.
Life Cycle: In the Reduviidae, barrel-shaped eggs, some with ornate fringed caps, are deposited singly or in small clusters in areas frequented by females. Tiny wingless nymphal stages hatch in 8 to 30 days, depending on species and temperature. Nymphs develop through five (Reduvius) or eight (Triatoma) stages (instars) before becoming adults with fully-developed wings. The masked hunter overwinters as a partially developed nymph. Other species overwinter in the egg or adult stages. Generally, one generation is produced annually, although the bloodsucking conenose requires three years for development.
Habitat and Food Source(s), Damage: The mouthpart system (proboscis) is held bent back under the body when at rest. Piercing stylets are held within a sheath (labium). When feeding, articulation allows the proboscis to be pointed forward. Stylets can be extended beyond the end of the labial sheath into the blood meal host or insect prey. The masked hunter occurs in and around homes, entering homes to feed on bed bugs, Triatoma, and other insects. Adults are often attracted to lights. Nymphal stages “mask” their bodies by picking up debris such as dust and lint on their sticky bodies. The conenose bugs feed on blood of rats and other animals, including humans. They often live in nests of wood rats and other nesting rodents. Conenose and masked hunter bugs should be handled carefully.
Pest Status: Considered beneficial because they prey on insect pests; this and many reduviid species are medically important because they can “bite” with their sucking mouthparts. Species in the subfamily, Triatoma (also called conenoses or “kissing bugs” because of their habit of biting around the mouth), feed only on the blood of vertebrates. In southern Texas and southward, they can transmit the Chagas’ disease agent (Trypanosoma cruzi Chagas) among small animals, dogs and man. The bloodsucking conenose, Triatoma sanguisuga (LeConte), is also called the Mexican bed bug. During blood feeding, their bites are hardly felt by their hosts. However, bites, usually produced in self-defense, can be quite painful and can cause severe reactions in sensitive people, including burning, itching, swelling, red blotches, welts, rashes, fainting spells, nausea, diarrhea and anaphylactic reactions. Bites of the masked hunter, Reduvius personatus (Linnaeus), and other predatory assassin bugs can also be painful.
Literature: Borror et al. 1989; James and Harwood 1979; Slater and Baranowski 1978; Swann and Papp 1972.