What is a triatomine bug and what does it look like?
Triatomine bugs are a type of reduviid bug that can carry the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi that causes Chagas disease.
Where are triatomine bugs typically found?
Triatomine bugs (also called reduviid bugs, “kissing” bugs, assassin bugs, cone-nosed bugs, and blood suckers) can live indoors, in cracks and holes of substandard housing, or in a variety of outdoor settings including:
- Beneath porches
- Between rocky structures
- Under cement
- In rock, wood, brush piles, or beneath bark
- In rodent nests or animal burrows
- In outdoor dog houses or kennels
- In chicken coops or houses
They are typically found in the southern United States, Mexico, Central America, and South America (as far south as southern Argentina). The map below details triatomine occurrence by U.S. state.
Eleven different species of triatomine bugs have been found in the southern United States:
- Paratriatoma hirsuta
- Triatoma gerstaeckeri
- Triatoma incrassata
- Triatoma indictiva
- Triatoma lecticularia
- Triatoma neotomae
- Triatoma protracta
- Triatoma recurva
- Triatoma rubida
- Triatoma rubrofasciata
- Triatoma sanguisuga
Triatomines are primarily nocturnal and feed on the blood of mammals (including humans), birds, and reptiles. Triatomine bugs live in a wide range of environmental settings, generally within close proximity to a blood host. In areas of Latin America where human Chagas disease is an important public health problem, the bugs nest in cracks and holes of substandard housing.
Because most indoor structures in the United States are built with plastered walls and sealed entryways to prevent insect invasion, triatomine bugs rarely infest indoor areas of houses. Discovery of immature stages of the bug (wingless, smaller nymphs) inside may be an indication of infestation. When the bugs are found inside, they are likely to be in one of the following settings:
- Near pet resting areas
- In areas of rodent infestation
- In and around beds and bedrooms, especially under or near mattresses or night stands
How can I keep triatomine bugs away from my home?
Synthetic pyrethroid sprays have been used successfully in Latin America to eliminate house infestations. Although similar chemicals are available in the United States, none have been specifically approved for use against triatomine bugs. A licensed pest control operator should be consulted if considering the use of insecticides. Please note that roach hotels or other “bait” formulations do not work against triatomine bugs. Long lasting insecticide treated bednets and curtains have been shown to kill these bugs.
Other precautions to prevent house infestation include:
- Sealing cracks and gaps around windows, walls, roofs, and doors
- Removing wood, brush, and rock piles near your house
- Using screens on doors and windows and repairing any holes or tears
- If possible, making sure yard lights are not close to your house (lights can attract the bugs)
- Sealing holes and cracks leading to the attic, crawl spaces below the house, and to the outside
- Having pets sleep indoors, especially at night
- Keeping your house and any outdoor pet resting areas clean, in addition to periodically checking both areas for the presence of bugs
How can I tell if the bug I’ve found is a triatomine and not another kind of bug?
There are many beetles and non-triatomine reduviid bugs that resemble the triatomine bug. Two examples of non-triatomine reduviid bugs that do not feed on human blood are the wheel bug and the assassin bug. Some plant-feeding bugs, such as Coreidae, also resemble the triatomine. If you are unsure if the bug you’ve found is a triatomine, you may wish to consult with an expert, such as an entomologist, for clarification.