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Should you be concerned about kissing bugs?

A report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently confirmed that a kissing bug, Triatoma sanguisuga, bit a girl on the face in Delaware last summer. This is the first time this kissing bug species has been identified in Delaware.

This report is significant because kissing bugs can carry the disease organism that causes Chagas disease, a potentially fatal disease. Fortunately, the kissing bug that bit the girl in Delaware tested negative for the Chagas disease organism but its presence does cause some worry about a northerly movement of kissing bugs.
Three species of kissing bugs found in
the U.S.  Triatoma sanguisuga is on the left.  
Photo: Gabriel L. Hamer

Where do they come from?

Nearly all kissing bugs are tropical or subtropical in distribution and are typically found in South America, Central America, Mexico. However, they have been increasingly more common in the U.S., especially in the south from California to the Carolinas. They have now been identified in 28 U.S. states.

Fortunately, cases of Chagas disease in the U.S. are not common. Most kissing bugs are not infected with the Chagas disease organism. And for the disease to infect a person, the kissing bug must poop near the bite wound. Fortunately, this does not usually happen.

Can you find Kissing bugs in Minnesota?

Still, kissing bugs are on a lot of people’s mind right now as we head into the warm weather. Can they be found in Minnesota? It is very unlikely that kissing bugs would naturally migrate to northern states, like Minnesota. They have been rarely found but when they are discovered, it is due to the insect hitchhiking back from South America or other southern location.

What do they look like?

Kissing bugs are large, about ¾ inch 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.

A western conifer seed bug,
often confused for a kissing bug.
Photo: Jeff Hahn, UMN Extension Entomologist
The most common insect thought to be a kissing bug in Minnesota is the western conifer seed bug. It is 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.

It is also possible to confuse a masked hunter with a kissing bug (both are types of assassin bugs). 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.

If you see an insect you are suspicious may be a kissing bug, get it correctly identified by insect expert.

For more information on kissing bugs see Kissing bugs & Chagas disease in the United States.

Author: Jeffrey Hahn, Extension Entomologist

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