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Extension > Yard and Garden News > Western conifer seed bugs and kissing bugs

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Western conifer seed bugs and kissing bugs

Jeffrey Hahn, Extension Entomologist

A western conifer seed bug, a type of leaf-footed bug, is a common insect in Minnesota. It is fairly large, measuring about ¾ inch long, and is reddish brown with a few white markings. It is distinctive in appearance because it possesses leaf-like structures on its large back legs. People rarely notice this insect during summer as it feeds on pine trees.
Western conifer seed bug, a common, harmless insect in
Minnesota.  Note the leaf-like enlargement on the hind leg.
Photo: Jeff Hahn, UMN Extension

However, it is commonly spotted indoors during fall and winter as it searches for sheltered sites to spend the winter. It can accidentally enter homes through cracks and gaps, much like boxelder bugs and lady beetles. Fortunately, no more than a handful of western conifer seed bugs are usually seen at a time. They are a nuisance by their presence but otherwise are harmless. See also Nuisance invaders: birch catkin feeders, hackberry psyllids, western conifer seed bugs.

However, people recently have been confusing this insect with kissing bugs.  Kissing bugs are a type of assassin bug, belonging to the subfamily Triatominae. For this reason, they are also known as triatomines. These insects are large, about ¾ to a little over one inch in length and are dark brown or black in color with orange and black markings. Their head is narrow and elongate. Because of this, this group of insects is also sometimes called conenose bugs.

Kissing bugs do not occur in Minnesota.  They are potential
carriers of Chagas disease. Photo: Sturgis McKeever,
Georgia Southern University, Bugwood.org
Kissing bugs are nocturnal blood feeders on various vertebrate animals including humans. They get their name from their habit of biting people on the face (other areas of the body can also be bitten). Being bitten is bad enough but kissing bugs are known to vector Chagas disease, a potentially fatal disease.

Fortunately, kissing bugs do not occur in Minnesota. Nearly all kissing bugs are tropical or subtropical in distribution and are found in South America, Central America, Mexico, and a few areas in the southern U.S. All cases of suspected kissing bugs that have been recently received by the University of Minnesota have turned out to be western conifer seeds bugs. For more information on kissing bugs and Chagas disease, see the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention web page.

It is also possible to confuse a masked hunter as a kissing bug. Unlike the western conifer seed bug, a masked hunter is also a type of assassin bug, like a kissing bug but is in a different subfamily. Adults are dark brown to black, and also measure about ¾ inch long. However they are more slender in appearance than either western conifer seeds bugs or kissing bugs. Masked hunters are most common during the summer but can be occasionally seen indoors during winter. For more information see Masked hunters.

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