Foe!!!!!!!! It was only a kiss how did it end up like this?
Kissing bug is the common name given to a variety of insects within the Triatoma genus of Reduviidae. That part was for you science nerds. If you were keen on all that fancy talk, you may have noticed that Reduviidae sounded familiar. That is because in the gardening world, Reduviidae is usually associated with assassin bugs - every gardeners best friend. While kissing bugs are scientifically assassin bugs, their biggest difference is in their prey. Which is ironic to say the least. Assassin bugs are friends. Kissing bugs are foes. The photo to the left is from the University of Florida's website on Kissing Bugs (link at the end of post)
What is a kissing bug then? Like their assassin bug relatives, they are blood sucking insects that feed on other creatures instead of plants. The major difference here is - assassin bugs eat insects but kissing bugs thirsts for blood from mammals. Which includes people by the way. It gets worse. These blood suckers are a known vector to transmit the a parasite called Trypanosoma cruzi, causing Chagas disease in humans. Fortunately, the parasite has yet to become common in North America even with the presence of kissing bugs.
There are two kissing bugs common in Florida. The first one is the same as the one in the picture above. Triatoma sanguisuga. The second is Triatoma lecticularia, pictured below. Similarities are easily observed. The only real variation is color. The identifying characteristics of kissing bugs in the garden are:
Cone shaped head with 3 piece "beak" extending away from head
Long flattened bodies that are wider than their wings
Typically have 6 light colored spots on each side of the abdomen
When compared to other insects that look similar - such as assassin bugs - kissing bug's antennae are shorter in length and are "elbowed" close the the head
Now for the moment we've all been waiting for. How did kissing bugs get their name? It was literally the first thing I searched for after learning their name. What I found was they were given the name kissing bugs, because the location of their bite was often around the lips and face of the victim. Since the bugs are primarily active at night, they normally bite humans during sleep. The bite is usually not painful enough to wake someone up.
So what to do about kissing bugs in the garden? While they are not beneficial predators, they also aren't eating your plants. But, they are targeting vertebrates. Cats, dogs, other animals on the homestead, and humans are all at risk of the bite. Luckily, the risk is very low of contracting Chagas here in Florida. With that being said, I recommend leaving the kissing bugs alone to be dealt with by their natural predators.
If the population becomes out of control OR you begin to have kissing bugs in your home, they need to be dealt with. Diatomaceous Earth has proven to work if you can target places where they might be hiding. However, it does take some time to kill the insect. Pyrethrin is proven to work and is generally safe around the garden and pets. There are also various traps, although I have never tested any of them.
Prevention is the biggest key for kissing bugs inside the house. Screening windows and doors in order to keep them out goes a long way. Clearing away piles of rocks, wood, leaves, and other hiding places away from the house will keep them away. Finding infestations of kissing bugs may not always be easy. They prefer to hide in dark places during the day. Under the cover of dark is when they are most active and most likely to feed.
For more info check out the University of Florida's page: