Kissing Bugs in Arizona

Arizona Kissing Bugs

kissing bug illustration

Kissing bugs are one quarter of an inch to one inch in length. The pests are easy to identify thanks to their brown to black bodies and the distinct orange, yellow, or red stripes at the edge of their wings. Additionally, kissing bugs have elongated, cone-shaped heads equipped with a proboscis, which is a tubular feeding structure.

Requiring a blood meal from a mammal for each of their five stages of development, the kissing bug will seek food during the night when they can feed undisturbed. Though these insects can go two weeks to six months between feedings, they will feed more often when in proximity with humans and pets. Kissing bugs enter homes through cracks or open doors and hide in dark areas, such as under furniture, in closets, or in crevices.

Bites

The kissing bug gets its name because the insect prefers to bite humans around the mouth or eyes. However, the pest will feed on any uncovered area of skin so long as it is not disturbed. The common hosts of kissing bugs include wild mammals, domestic dogs, and of course people. Both male and female kissing bugs bite, as well. It takes kissing bugs approximately 10 minutes to consume a full blood meal, and, afterward, homeowners may notice multiple bite marks. Other indications for kissing bugs in Arizona are:

  1. Individuals may observe unexplained marks on their skin, resembling knots or welts.
  2. Taking on a cluster pattern, multiple bite marks are grouped together in specific areas of the body.
  3. Uncovered areas are optimal for kissing bug feeding purposes. Therefore, shoulders, arms, necks, and faces are the most likely to be bitten.
  4. Larger and itchier than most insect bites, lesions are also more persistent.
  5. Bites are most likely to appear in late spring as this is the most common period of activity for kissing bugs.

Kissing Bugs & Chagas Disease in AZ

A growing, pest-related health problem in Arizona is Chagas disease transmitted by the conenose bug, also known as the kissing bug (Triatoma). Excluding humans, many mammal hosts can be reservoirs of Trypanosoma cruzi, the parasite that causes Chagas disease. This enables kissing bugs to become infected in the process of taking a blood meal.

The kissing bug normally feeds on desert mammals, usually pack rats or wood rats, and even house pets. But, as communities expand into the insect’s normal habitat and immigration continues from places outside of Arizona, conenose bugs have become more likely to enter homes and bite sleeping occupants. While Chagas disease is rare in humans, transmission takes place in the southwestern states, especially in areas like Arizona, Texas, and New Mexico.

Additional Health Risks Associated with Kissing Bugs

Other medical problems sometimes caused by kissing bug bites are allergic reactions to the insect’s saliva. Symptoms appear as severe redness, itching, or swelling and may involve secondary infections caused by bacterial contamination of the bite wound. There is currently no vaccination that protects against Chagas disease for humans, but benznidazole and nifurtimox are effective in it in its early stage.

Homeowners who suspect they’ve found an infected kissing bug in their house can capture the pest, if possible, and place it into a pill vial or similar container. This will protect the specimen so that you can then submit it to your local University Extension Service office. When handling a kissing bug, be sure to wear latex or protective gloves so you are not bitten or contaminated with the Chagas disease organism.

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