Kissing bugs are a species of bugs that can bite humans and cause disease. The kissing bug, also known as a masked hunter, can inflict a painful bite. These bites occur most often around the mouth, hence the name “kissing bug.” The bugs draw blood by inserting their mouthparts into their victims.
Kissing bugs are found mostly in the eastern and mid-western portions of the United States. Kissing bugs do not normally feed on humans, so bites from them are often accidental. They bite when they are mishandled. Often times their bites are misdiagnosed as spider bites.
Kissing bugs do not seek out humans to bite. Instead, they become parasites on nesting vertebrates such as rats or domestic fowl. Kissing bugs can be beneficial, however, because they prey on other insects as well.
Kissing bugs seek shelter during the day and feed at night when their hosts are normally asleep and the air is a little cooler. Kissing bugs are drawn to the carbon dioxide that their hosts exhale as well as odors from ammonia and other excretions. Kissing bugs can go 3 to 6 months without a meal.
Kissing bugs can also transmit diseases. Charles Darwin's journal contains one of the first accounts of members of the kissing bug species in the Americas. Darwin witnessed a member of the triatomine family in Argentina. There is speculation that Darwin's later illness in his life was caused by his exposure to these bugs during this time.
Kissing bugs transmit Chagas disease, which can be fatal to humans. Although it is rare, it can be passed through the bite of an infected kissing bug. Sometimes, the chronic form of Chagas disease doesn't appear until 10 or 20 years after a bite has been received. Chagas disease is found mainly in Central and South America.