Recently, multiple inquiries have come in regarding eastern bloodsucking conenoses found in or near homes. These Kentucky kissing bugs often stir up a lot of negative feelings when they are found, as people fear they may have been bitten, or worse, may have contracted Chagas disease.
Luckily, the chances of the latter are extremely low due to a variety of circumstances that make the conenose different than their relatives in the kissing bug group.
As part of the kissing bug group (Triatomids) these are blood feeding critters (if the name wasn't a giveaway). These true bugs have piercing sucking mouthparts and go through incomplete metamorphosis. They start as an egg and progress through 8 nymphal instars. To go from one stage to the next, they must take a blood meal. The adults are about 3/4 inch long, dark in coloration, and have distinctive orange squares that border the edges of their body with other orange margins (Figure 1).
Triatimids are called kissing bugs for their penchant for biting their human host near the mouth. This is done while we are asleep to minimize chance of detection. In addition to biting people, eastern bloodsucking conenoses will dine on frogs, rats, raccoons, cats, and dogs. Because of this, they can be found in tree cavities, near doghouses, and by animal enclosures. They are also attracted to lights and will fly at houses with outdoor lighting.
Is there a need to be concerned?
The group name "kissing bugs" usually brings up questions of Chagas disease, an illness caused by a pathogen vectored by species other than the eastern bloodsucking conenose. The conenose is something that can and will bite humans, but unlike their relatives, they tend to not defecate while engaged in feeding on the sleeping human. This defecation plays a key role in transmission in other parts of the world as the pathogen is carried out in the fecal material and then is easily wiped into the bite wound.
Eastern conenoses can test positive for the pathogen responsible for Chagas. That does not mean they will be a competent vector though, as previously described. There has never been a confirmed case of Chagas from the state of Kentucky. If you find a conenose in your home, it is extremely unlikely you will end up with Chagas disease.
Even if you are not at distinct risk of infection, few people like the idea of something drinking their blood while they are asleep.
Conenose entry into the home is best prevented by using pest-proofing methods, like using caulk to seal cracks and gaps around windows, walls, roofs, and doors, by repairing screens and windows, and by closing holes and cracks leading to the attic/crawl spaces.
Checking pet or animal domiciles for bugs is also practical.
Those who live near wooded areas are more at risk and should be proactive. You may also need to perform pest control for things like rats, raccoons, etc. that are acting as hosts to the conenose.
Insecticides are generally not necessary but can be accomplished with pyrethroid products applied to cracks and crevices.
For more information, call the Pulaski County Cooperative Extension Service at 606-679-6361.
Become a fan of Pulaski County Horticulture on Facebook and follow @hortagentbeth on Twitter, kyplants on Instagram, and follow us on YouTube at Pulaski County Horticulture.
The Pulaski Co Extension office is open to the public on a regular basis, Monday through Friday 8am to 4:30pm.
The Lake Cumberland Master Gardeners have pine straw mulch for sale at the Pulaski County Extension office. It is sold in bales for $7 per bale (50 and over, $6 per bale). It can be purchased during office hours 8am to 4:30pm Monday - Friday.
Educational programs of Kentucky Cooperative Extension serve all people regardless of economic or social status and will not discriminate on the basis of race, color, ethnic origin, national origin, creed, religion, political belief, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, pregnancy, marital status, genetic information, age, veteran status, or physical or mental disability.