Eastern bloodsucking conenoses belong to the family of true bugs known as assassin bugs. Most assassin bugs feed on other insects. But as their name suggests bloodsucking conenoses feed on blood, vertebrate blood. Their hosts include tree frogs, wood rats, raccoons, possums, dogs, and yes, even humans, though this is rare. The bite is usually painless because they don’t want the host to realize it is being fed upon. They are also potential vectors of a serious disease of humans known as Chaga’s disease. But don’t panic. Incidence of Chaga’s disease being transmitted to humans by this bug here in the US is extremely low. Even though eastern bloodsucking conenose bugs are often infected with the organism that causes Chaga’s disease, they are not very good vectors for the disease—because they do not defecate while feeding and the organism that causes Chaga’s disease is spread by the feces and not by the bite.
Chaga’s disease is much more common in Mexico and other Central and South American countries, where it is spread by several species of conenose bugs that are more efficient vectors—because they live in close association with humans and are much more likely to feed on humans, and because they do defecate while feeding. Fortunately, we do not have those species here.
Although Eastern bloodsucking conenose bugs occur throughout the Southeast, they are rarely seen or encountered by humans. These bugs usually live in or near the nests or burrows of animals such as racoons, possums, armadillos, and wood rats, hiding in cracks and crevices when the host is active and venturing forth to feed when the host is resting. Occasionally, they will occur around kennels or resting areas of domestic animals such as dogs and cats. Incidence of Chaga’s disease can be quite high in these wild hosts throughout the Southeast, exceeding 20 percent in multiple studies on racoons and ranging as high as 68% and exceeding 15% in nine of eleven studies on opossums and ranging as high as 100% (Kribs-Zaleta, 2010). But it is easy to see how these infections can occur. A racoon or possum that encounters an Eastern bloodsucking conenose around its lair is probably going to eat it. Dogs can also be infected in the same way or by eating an infected animal, such as a rat.
Control: Although it is good to be aware that the eastern bloodsucking conenose can potentially harbor a serious disease, this is not something to lose sleep over. In the rare event you encounter one in your yard, just don’t handle it—the disease is spread through the feces. If you find you have accidentally crushed one, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water. If you find one in or around the house, kill it, but be sure to avoid handling or crushing it in the process. Spray it directly with a household insecticide and/or scoop it into a sealable disposable container and dispose in the trash. Limit potential harborage around the immediate outside of the house by limiting or moving wood piles and other clutter where kissing bugs may take refuge.
Thanks to Dr. Jerome Goddard, MSU Extension Medical Entomology Specialist, for his input and assistance with this article.
Blake Layton, Extension Entomology Specialist, Mississippi State University Extension Service.
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