What Does a Kissing Bug Look Like? Identifying the Sneaky Insect

Kissing bugs are insects that have gained notoriety due to their blood-sucking nature and potential to transmit Chagas disease. If you’re trying to identify one, it’s essential to understand their unique physical attributes.

These creepy-crawlies usually range in size from 3/4 to 1 3/4 inches long. They’re characterized by an elongated, cone-shaped head with elbowed antennae and a slender, beak-like structure on the underside, which they use for feeding. Many kissing bugs also display red-orange banding patterns on their abdomen, making them easier to spot (University of Maryland Extension).

Now that you have a basic understanding of what a kissing bug looks like, you should be able to identify them quickly and take appropriate action to prevent any potential health risks. Stay cautious and attentive when dealing with these insects, and reach out to a professional if you need assistance.

General Description of a Kissing Bug

Kissing bugs are insects that can be found in various parts of the world. They have a unique appearance which is important to recognize, as some species are known to carry the parasite that causes Chagas disease. In this section, we will describe the general characteristics of a kissing bug.

Body Shape and Size

Kissing bugs have an elongated cone-shaped head and an oval-shaped body. Their size usually ranges from 0.5 to over 1 inch (13.0 to 33.0 mm) in length. These bugs are equipped with wings, although they are not known for being strong fliers.

Color and Markings

The body color of a kissing bug can vary from a light brown to black body. In addition, they often have yellow, red, or tan markings on their abdomen. These markings can differ based on the species of the bug.

Head, Antennae, and Face Features

One of the distinguishing characteristics of kissing bugs is their narrow and elongated head. Their eyes are typically well-developed, while their antennae are elbowed, giving them a distinct appearance. The slender beak-like structure found on the underside of the head functions as their mouth.

In summary, recognizing a kissing bug can be important for your health and safety. Pay attention to their unique features like the cone-shaped head, abdomen markings, and slender mouthparts. With this knowledge, you will be better equipped to identify these insects and take necessary precautions.

Habitat and Behavior

Kissing bugs are nocturnal insects commonly found in the US, especially in Texas, Arizona, and other southern states. They also inhabit Mexico, Central America, and Latin America. These bugs typically prefer living in outdoor spaces with rocks, wood, gaps, and cracks, where they can hide during the day.

Despite their preference for outdoor habitats, kissing bugs can find their way into your home by sneaking through openings around windows, doors, or any small cracks in the house’s structure. Be cautious, as these insects pose a risk of carrying the parasite that causes Chagas disease.

As predators, kissing bugs will come out at night to hunt their prey, like other nocturnal creatures in their habitat. The Western United States and regions across Latin America have a higher prevalence of these insects, compared to areas with cooler climates.

In summary, here’s a brief breakdown of kissing bug habitat and behavior:

  • Nocturnal
  • Found in US, Mexico, Central America, and Latin America, with higher prevalence in Texas, Arizona, and southern states
  • Prefer living outdoors among rocks, wood, gaps, and cracks
  • Sneak into homes through windows, doors, or any small openings in the structure
  • Act as predators, hunting their prey at night

Keep these key features in mind to raise awareness about the kissing bug’s habitat and behavior, especially if you live in one of the regions where these insects are commonly found.

Identification Techniques

When trying to identify a kissing bug, it’s important to pay attention to its physical features. Kissing bugs have a few distinguishing characteristics that set them apart:

  • Dark brown to black color
  • Elongated head
  • Six legs
  • Antennae
  • Yellow, red, or tan markings on their abdomen
  • Oval shape, about 1 inch in length

To help you identify a kissing bug, here is a comparison table highlighting its features and contrasting it with a common look-alike, the Pennsylvania wood roach:

Feature Kissing Bug Pennsylvania Wood Roach
Size About 1 inch (13.0 to 33.0 mm) 0.6 to 1.2 inches (12 to 30 mm)
Shape Oval, elongated head Oval, broader head
Color Dark brown to black with colored abdominal markings Uniform, reddish-brown
Legs Six legs Six legs
Markings Yellow, red, or tan markings on their abdomen None

At home, you can use a penny as a size reference when examining the bug. A kissing bug is approximately the same length as a penny (0.75 inches or 19 mm).

In conclusion, knowing the key characteristics of a kissing bug helps you with its identification. Being familiar with the size, shape, color, and markings of these insects can help you spot them more easily and take necessary precautions.

Life Cycle and Feeding Habits

Kissing bugs are a type of nocturnal blood-sucking insect that feed on mammals, birds, and reptiles. The life cycle of kissing bugs consists of several stages, from egg to adult. They go through a series of nymph stages before becoming a fully grown adult. These bugs are attracted to the carbon dioxide released when you breathe and to your body’s warmth.

You might be curious about their feeding habits. As parasites, kissing bugs bite their host to feed on their blood. When they feed, they inject saliva into the host’s skin to prevent blood clotting. After they have fed, these bugs will defecate near the bite area, which may contain harmful parasites. If the host scratches the bite area, they can accidentally introduce these parasites into their bloodstream.

Kissing bugs are often confused with other insects, such as squash bugs or mosquitoes. However, there are few distinguishing features:

  • Kissing bugs have a narrow and elongated head
  • They are dark brown to black in color
  • Their mouthparts are thin and held close to their body

Comparing to mosquitoes, kissing bugs are more selective in their hosts, and their bites can often cause more severe allergic reactions. On the other hand, mosquitoes are more ubiquitous and can transmit a wider variety of diseases.

Now you know more about the life cycle and feeding habits of kissing bugs. Keep in mind that they are attracted to warmth and carbon dioxide, so be cautious when spending time in areas where they might be present. Remember their unique features to help you identify them and distinguish them from similar insects. Stay safe and take necessary precautions to avoid encounters with kissing bugs.

Health Risks: Chagas Disease

Chagas disease, also known as American trypanosomiasis, is a potentially severe illness caused by the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi. You can get infected with this disease through contact with a triatomine bug, also known as a “kissing bug.” These insects typically feed on rodents or other wild animals, but they will also bite humans.

There are two phases of Chagas disease: acute and chronic. The acute phase, which occurs immediately after infection, can last up to a few weeks or months. It is often mild or asymptomatic. You may experience symptoms such as:

  • Fever
  • Swelling around the site of the bite

The acute phase can be followed by the chronic phase, which may last for years or even a lifetime. Serious complications can occur in this stage, such as heart problems or digestive issues.

If you are infected, treatment with antiparasitic drugs such as nifurtimox or benznidazole is essential, especially during the acute phase. It is crucial to get diagnosed and treated early to reduce the risk of long-term complications.

To minimize your risks of getting infected with Chagas disease, you can take the following precautions:

  • Avoid areas with high triatomine bug populations
  • Use insect repellents and protective clothing
  • Ensure proper sanitation and housing conditions

By being aware of the risks and taking preventive measures, you can protect yourself from Chagas disease and the potential health complications it can bring.

Signs of Kissing Bug Infestation

Kissing bugs are large, dark brown or black insects, with some species having patterns and markings on their abdomen, which vary by species source. They belong to the Order Hemiptera and can range in size from 0.5 to over 1 inch in length. These insects get their name because they often bite people while they sleep. Here are some signs that you might have a kissing bug infestation.

Kissing bugs can leave evidence of infestation through their bites and feces. If you notice any of the following symptoms, you might have been bitten by a kissing bug:

  • Redness and swelling around the bite site
  • Itching around the bite area
  • Difficulty in breathing, in severe cases

Kissing bug bites can also cause R.Taña sign, which is the swelling of the eyelid and surrounding area. This condition can result when feces containing parasites are rubbed into the eyes or other mucous membranes. Be cautious if you observe any of these symptoms, and consult a medical professional if necessary.

In addition to the physical signs on your body, you can also look out for signs of infestation in and around your home. Some indicators of a possible infestation include:

  • Presence of live or dead kissing bugs indoors
  • Spots, smears, or streaks of feces on walls, floors, or bedsheets

Be sure to regularly inspect your home for any signs of kissing bug infestation. Keep it clean and well-maintained to minimize the chances of attracting these pests. If you suspect an infestation, contact a professional pest control expert to assess and handle the situation.

Prevention & Control

Taking steps to prevent and control kissing bug infestations can help protect your home and family from these insects. Here are some effective strategies for prevention and control:

  • Regularly inspect screens: Make sure your window and door screens are in good condition to keep kissing bugs from entering your home. Repair any tears or holes, and remember to check for gaps where screens may not fit snugly.

  • Seal cracks and gaps: Inspect your home’s exterior for cracks and gaps where kissing bugs could potentially enter. Use a sealant to close off these openings, paying special attention to areas around windows, doors, and eaves.

  • Keep your yard tidy: Piles of leaves or wood can create an inviting habitat for kissing bugs. Regularly rake and dispose of leaves, and store woodpiles away from your home.

  • Consider using insecticides: In some cases, applying insecticides to the exterior of your home can help deter kissing bugs. Be sure to select a product approved for use against these insects and follow all safety guidelines.

By following these simple steps, you can effectively reduce the risk of a kissing bug infestation in your home. Remember that regular maintenance and inspections are crucial to keeping these pests at bay. Keep up with these preventative measures, and you’ll be better equipped to protect your home and loved ones from the potential dangers of kissing bugs.

Treatment & Complications

If you are bitten by a kissing bug, it is essential to seek medical attention. Your doctor may prescribe antihistamines or corticosteroid creams to reduce itching and inflammation. In severe cases, such as anaphylaxis, immediate emergency treatment is necessary.

Kissing bug bites can lead to complications like severe allergic reactions and, in rare cases, transmission of Trypanosoma cruzi – the parasite responsible for Chagas disease. Chagas disease has two phases: acute and chronic. In the acute phase, symptoms may include fever, fatigue, and swelling around the bite area. In the chronic phase, the disease can affect vital organs like the heart and digestive system. This phase can remain asymptomatic for many years.

The CDC recommends two drugs for treating Chagas disease: nifurtimox and benznidazole. However, these drugs are not FDA-approved and can only be accessed through the CDC under specific protocols. Treatment should be started as soon as possible and is most effective during the acute phase of the disease.

To reduce the risk of complications associated with kissing bug bites, you should:

  • Use insect repellant and wear protective clothing
  • Repair holes and cracks around your home to prevent bug entry
  • Keep outdoor lights off or use yellow light bulbs to avoid attracting insects
  • Keep pets indoors at night and maintain a clean outdoor environment

Remember, early detection and treatment are crucial in managing the complications associated with kissing bug bites. Always consult a healthcare professional if you suspect you have been bitten or are experiencing symptoms.

Bugs That are Often Mistaken for Kissing Bugs

Several bugs resemble kissing bugs, leading to confusion and misidentification. In this brief section, we’ll discuss some common insects that are often mistaken for kissing bugs.

One similar-looking bug is the boxelder bug, which has red and black coloration. However, it differs as it has red along the edges of the front wings, while kissing bugs have red-orange stripes on their abdomen.

The western conifer seed bug is another bug that shares a similar body form and pointed head with kissing bugs. However, it is actually a seed-feeding bug found in homes and doesn’t carry the Chagas disease-causing parasite, unlike kissing bugs.

A few other bugs that physically resemble kissing bugs are assassin bugs, including leaf-footed bugs, wheel bugs, and conenose bugs. These bugs belong to the same family as kissing bugs (Reduviidae) but are not known to carry the Chagas disease-causing parasite. They are predators that feed on other insects.

To help you differentiate between kissing bugs and similar-looking bugs, below is a comparison table of some key features:

Bug Type Appearance Diet Known to Carry Chagas Disease
Kissing Bug Red-orange stripes on abdomen Blood Yes
Boxelder Bug Red along edges of front wings Vegetation, mainly seeds No
Western Conifer Seed Bug Pointed head, similar body form to kissing bugs Seeds No
Leaf-footed Bug Wide, leaf-like hind legs Vegetation No
Wheel Bug Large, wheel-like structure on the thorax Insects No
Conenose Bug Resembles kissing bug, but doesn’t carry Chagas disease Insects No

So, when you encounter a bug that looks like a kissing bug, consider its appearance, diet, and habitat to determine if it’s actually a kissing bug or one of the many similar-looking insects.

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Kissing Bug and subsequent bites

 

Subject: Blood sucking bug
Location: Glendale, CA
September 4, 2013 9:37 pm
My wife was bitten probably about 10 days ago on the head and developed large wheals that felt like a boil. Several days later she had a series of hives on the left shoulder area that were extremely itchy and caused massive swelling of the surrounding tissue; there were other single lesions on the rt arm and 4 days later on the rt leg and top of the foot. These lesions improved on oral steroids and a topical high potency steroid cream.
We used a fogger last night and today found a dead bug next to the mattress on the platform bed engorged and when pressed a lot of blood was expressed. Checking photos on the web we tentatively identified it as the kissing bug – triatomine. We called the Public Health Dept in Los Angeles but they no longer have an entomologist! We live up in the hills – foothill of the San Gabriel range.
Signature: Peng Fan

Kissing Bug
Kissing Bug

Dear Peng,
We agree with your self identification. This is a Western Conenose,
Triatoma protracta, and it is a member of the genus commonly called Kissing Bugs or Mexican Bed Bugs.  See BugGuide for more information on the species and the genus.  Though the chances of your wife contracting Chagas Disease are slim, she should probably see a physician for a professional opinion.

Bites of a Kissing Bug
Bites of a Kissing Bug

Letter 2 – Bug of the Month December 2015: Kissing Bugs in the News

 

Ed. Note:  Because of numerous recent Kissing Bug identification requests, and because Kissing Bugs are currently in the news, we decided to make our December Bug of the Month a Public Service message.

Eastern Blood-Sucking Conenose Bug or Kissing Bug
Eastern Blood-Sucking Conenose Bug or Kissing Bug

December 1, 2015 6:45 am
The News story is airing on NBC5 in the Dallas Texas area. They are having 1 out of 10 pets dying at this time from what they are calling the kissing bug.
FYI: http://www.nbcdfw.com/video/#!/investigations/video/Hidden-Threat–The-Kissing-Bug-and-Chagas-Disease/350851171
Signature: Anthony

Letter From our Archives
Subject: Is this beetle poisonous?
Location: Southern California
April 6, 2014 11:01 am
Hi,
We found this bug in my daughters bed. For the past week, she has been waking up with horribly swollen and disfiguring bites that turn into oozing blisters within a few days. Any ideas what this is?
Signature: Thank you, Krishni

Western Conenose Bug
Western Blood-Sucking Conenose Bug

Dear Krishni,
This is not a beetle.  It is a species of Assassin Bug known as a Kissing Bug or Western Conenose Bug,
Triatoma protracta.  You can compare your individual to this image on BugGuide.  Though it is not a poisonous species, it is of some concern because they carry a pathogen known to cause Chagas Disease.  Chagas Disease is a much greater threat in the tropics than it is in the United States, but there is a possibility that your daughter might have contracted the protozoan that causes Chagas Disease.  According to BugGuide:  “Bite can cause severe allergic reaction in many humans. Bite and defecation into bite can transmit Chagas disease, caused by Trypanosoma cruzi, a protozoan. The most notorious vector is T. infestans, found in South America. The North American species are not normally thought to transmit the disease, though they can carry the parasite. (The North American species do not normally defecate at the site of the bite, which is what actually transmits the parasite–see Kissing bugs (Triatoma) and the skin [University of California eScholarship]. The CDC site says that rare vector-borne cases of Chagas disease have been noted in the so. US.”  You may want to contact the Center for Disease Control for additional information.

Letter 3 – Eastern Blood-Sucking Conenose Bug or Kissing Bug

 

Subject: Bug Identification
Location: Central Florida
May 27, 2017 5:33 am
We found this bug crawling into our screened patio. I’m guessing it may be a seed bug. I’d love to know which bug it is. We have a new landscape and garden and would like to know if we should be concerned about this bug, if it may eat our plants, protect our plants or just enjoy our plants. Thank you!
Signature: Gina

Eastern Blood-Sucking Conenose Bug

Dear Gina,
You should exercise extreme caution around this Eastern Blood-Sucking Conenose Bug,
Triatoma sanguisuga, whose identity we verified on BugGuide.  According to BugGuide, the habitat is “Nests of small mammals; may invade houses. Nocturnal” and “Sometimes bites humans, and the bite may be severe, causing an allergic reaction.”  Kissing Bugs have been in the news quite a bit lately as tropical species are known to spread Chagas Disease.  According to BugGuide:  “Bite can cause severe allergic reaction in humans. Bite and defecation into bite can transmit Chagas disease, caused by the protozoan Trypanosoma cruzi. The North American species can carry the parasite but they do not normally defecate at the site of bite, and thus rarely transmit the disease (Vetter 2001). Rare vector-borne cases of Chagas occur in the so. US (CDC 2013).”

Letter 4 – Immature Kissing Bug

 

blood sucking bed invader
Location: under my pillow, Tucson AZ
August 13, 2011 12:39 pm
Dear Bugman,
I hate to bother you again, but I think I have a good photo this time. I learned to put them on packing tape. It would seem this this guy whom I found under my pillow, as I do many days find one or two, so I get in the habit of checking… it would seem that this guy is a blood sucker as his abdomen, or ones like him, grows and seems to squish blood when squashed. Now, I do not like this critter under my pillow. I would rather have theives invade my house and take my TV than a blood sucking bug hide under my pillow waiting for the opportune time to attack. Please set my mind at ease or not, in which case I will have the place fumigated. I hope you answer this as it is driving me to obsession.
Signature: Going Buggy

Not sure if you will get this but I forgot one important factor.. This bug
measures 1/4″.
Itty bitty,
Thanks!

Immature Kissing Bug

Dear Going Buggy,
Thank you for resubmitting a clearer image.  This is an immature Blood Sucking Conenose Bug in the genus
Triatoma.  They are also known as Kissing Bugs because they frequently bite sleepers around the lips.  They are also called by a variety of other names in Spanish Speaking countries according to BugGuide, including:  “barbeiro, bicudo, chupão (Brazil); vinchuca, chipo, pito, chinchorro, chirimacho, iquipito, chupon (in various Spanish-speaking Latin American countries); Bush Chinch (Belize).”  Here is a matching photo from BugGuide.  Especially in tropical countries, they spread a pathogen that causes Chagas Disease.

Daniel,
Thank you sooo much for your reply. I did look on the BugGuide but being a novice at bugs did not find it. However, I still feel like spraying the air.
I did not see a picture of a HorseLubber Grasshopper anywhere, so I thought you might appreciate this. Use it or not as you see fit.
Thanks again.
K.

Letter 5 – Kissing Bug bites girl on face

 

Subject: Could you tell me what this is?
Location: Northern Kentucky / Cincinnati area
February 21, 2014 11:07 am
This bug was found this morning on my daughter’s curtain (after she woke up with a bite on her face). It looks somewhat like a fallen leaf in Autumn with it’s coloring. It’s concave. It had no scent while alive or after I killed it.
Signature: curious mother

Kissing Bug
Kissing Bug

Dear curious mother,
This is an immature Eastern Blood Sucking Conenose Bug,
Triatoma sanguisuga, and along with other members of its genus, it is also known as a Kissing Bug because they frequently bite sleepers on the face, especially near the lips.  Though we do not think there is a high risk, you should be aware that Kissing Bugs, especially the species in the tropics, are known for spreading Chagas Disease.  You might want to get your daughter some medical attention and mention Chagas Disease to the physician.  This individual is an immature nymph, and it might have siblings lurking in your home.  See a matching image on BugGuideBugGuide also notes:  “Sometimes bites humans, and the bite may be severe, causing an allergic reaction.”  See the Center for Disease Control and Prevention for additional information on Chagas Disease.

Thank you.

Authors

  • Daniel Marlos

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

15 thoughts on “What Does a Kissing Bug Look Like? Identifying the Sneaky Insect”

  1. According to the “Texas Bug Book” by Beck and Garrett, the normal diet of the Kissing Bug is bed bugs (Cimex lectularius). Getting in your house and if he finds no bed bugs, then you become the target. Spraying the air probably won’t help. Take apart your bedding and drapes. It is hiding somewhere. If you don’t find it, you will wake up in the morning with another itchy welt. Do not scratch. Wash the swelling and surrounding area thoroughly with soap and water – then you can scratch. This bug carries a deadly sleeping sickness called Chagas disease. Put good screens on your windows, caulk any cracks. Organic control is Diatomaceous earth and pyrethrum. good luck in getting rid of this bug!

    Reply
    • Actually, it is our understanding that Chagas Disease is not really associated with species found in the U.S., but rather, with relatives found in Central and South America.

      Reply
  2. Didn’t mean to scare anyone, but I was quoting from the book, “Texas Bug Book”, by Malcolm Beck and Howard Garrett, but Texas is only a hop, skip and a jump from central america. And they may be coming across the border by backpack if you know what I mean!

    Reply
  3. I saw a red and black bug similar to this near my car. It was larger though. I had no idea kissing bugs could look like this. My question is- How do you tell the difference in a kissing bug and a stink bug?? By the photos they look almost alike. I don’t want to kill an innocent stink bug by accident.

    Reply
    • The two are classified in the same order, so it is difficult to provide a nonscientific explanation of the differences.

      Reply
    • The posting upon which you commented contains an image of a Kissing Bug. You would probably feel irritation from a bite.

      Reply
    • The posting upon which you commented contains an image of a Kissing Bug. Additional images are also found on our site and you can locate them using our effective search engine. You would probably feel irritation from a bite.

      Reply

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