Assassin bug utah

Assassin bug utah DEFAULT

Assassin Bug



The assassin bug’s aliases – for instance, conenose bug, walapai tiger, bed bug, wheel bug, thread-legged bug, kissing bug – reflect the insect’s multiple personalities, making it a perfect villain for a James Bond film. Depending on the species, this bloodthirsty bug may prey not only on other insects but also on reptiles, birds or mammals, including humans.

Assassin bug on a creosote bush

Typically, an assassin bug, which may look almost armor plated, like a medieval knight, measures a fraction of an inch to an inch and a half in length with a color ranging from brownish to black. It has a generally oval, but sometimes a considerably elongated, shape, according to Borror and White. It has antenna with four segments and a three-segmented tube-like beak that it folds into a groove beneath its throat. Equipped with thickened forelegs, the bug can snap them together like spring-loaded clamps to catch insect prey. Threatened by other predators such as certain reptiles or birds, some assassin bug species defend themselves by using their beaks to squirt their venom, from a foot away, at their attacker’s eyes and nose, causing extreme irritation. If its stream strikes a human’s eyes, it can cause temporary blindness. 

Widely distributed across the Southwest, the assassin bug that preys on insects tends to hang around foliage, and the species that prey on vertebrate animals may invade burrows, nests, dens and human bedrooms. The female lays her eggs in the fall, primarily in secreted crevices and cracks. The nymph hatches in the spring, looking much like a miniature adult. After several molts, it emerges as a full-grown assassin bug, ready to ply its trade.


The species that prey on insects may stalk and attack or simply ambush their victims. The assassin bug drives its beak like a dagger into its victim’s body, injecting “a very toxic, or poisonous, liquid that affects the nerves and liquefies the muscles and tissues…” according to the From Amazing Insects Internet site. “...prey many times their size can be quickly overcome. Once the insides of the prey are turned into a liquid, the assassin bug uses its [beak] to suck out the liquefied tissues in much the same way we use a straw to drink a milkshake!” The assassin bug’s toxin can kill a much larger insect in a matter of seconds. It discards its victim’s carcass with disdain. The assassin bug may also deliver a painful bite, in self defense, if carelessly handled by a human.

The species that prey on the blood of vertebrate animals feed not only on wildlife (especially pack rats) but also on domesticated animals and pets, and, sometimes, they may help themselves to human blood. The assassin bug usually comes under the cover of darkness, stealthily, invading a person’s bed, looking for exposed flesh, usually the face, especially the tender flesh around the eyelids, ears or lips (ready to deliver an ominous “kiss”).


In a Utah State University Extension Entomology fact sheet, insect diagnostician Alan H. Roe, said that as an assassin bug delivers a bite, it injects a anesthetic, rendering the wound virtually painless, and it injects an anticoagulant, assuring free blood flow. In the Dermatology Online Journal, Rick Vetter said that the insect, typically, would feed for 8 to 15 minutes. It may cause an especially sensitive person to suffer symptoms such as violent itching, breathlessness, nausea, heart palpitation and even unconsciousness, said Roe. In Latin America, the bite sometimes leads to Chaga’s disease, a form of sleeping sickness, although that is rare in the United States. The assassin bug is a villain worthy of James Bond.

by Jay W. Sharp

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SALT LAKE CITY — There's nothing better than an anecdotal horror story about a creepy-crawly to keep us squirming in our beds at night, wondering what might be afoot in the dark.

And recent reports of the so-called "kissing bug" — which infects those it bites when its fecal matter is spread across the wound — making its way through the U.S. have likely entered the nightmares of many.

But should the Beehive State be concerned?

According to the Utah Department of Health, maybe. But other critters pose more of an immediate threat.

"I don't think it's a huge risk here in the state. But obviously we're keeping up our surveillance and we'll let everyone know if we do find it to be a risk," said Dallin Peterson, Utah Department of Health epidemiologist.

The symptoms of Chagas' disease

The bugs, of which there are several species, spread the serious Chagas' disease, which can cause heart problems including heart failure. They have a penchant for biting the faces of victims, which gives them their name.

Doctors diagnose the disease through blood testing, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. An infected person can be symptom-free or can experience mild symptoms including fever, fatigue, body aches, vomiting and rashes.

In summer 2018, a little girl who lived in a heavily-wooded area in Delaware was bitten by the bug while watching TV. Her parents were concerned and contacted health officials. Luckily, she did not get the illness, the CDC said.

A study out of California in the 1960s found that the kissing bug does reside in Utah. In 2018, the state made Chagas' disease reportable — meaning doctors must report cases of it to the state health department — so officials can keep track of whether it is causing human infections, Peterson said. Utah is one of only a few states that have that rule.'

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Last year, Utah saw 10 reports of the disease, according to Peterson, but those with Chagas' had picked it up in other areas. None of the cases were fatal. Most human cases occur in Latin and South American countries. State health officials know of no human infections contracted from a kissing bug in Utah, Peterson said.

Most of the cases were identified when people visited cardiologists. You can't donate or receive an organ if you have Chagas', Peterson said, so doctors need to rule the disease out in those who want to donate or receive a new organ.

Animals risk getting infected, too

Humans aren't the only ones to beware the kissing bugs' pucker. They can also infect animals.

"Usually they're hiding in burrows or around where domestic animals are at … in one issue that they found specifically in Colorado, they're infecting the wood rat, and that wood rat population is keeping the kissing bugs thriving and keeping Chagas' disease in the kissing bug population," Peterson explained.

"That's one thing, if you do have an animal, and it's an outside animal like a dog or cat, make sure it's not infected."

Veterinarians offer tests for Chagas', he said.

The subspecies of kissing bugs in Utah is called triatomine protracta navajoensis. One hypothesis explaining why they haven't infected people in the state is because that subspecies is "a little slower to defecate" after biting someone, Peterson said.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

He believes the more we look for the bug, the more we'll find it. In the past couple years, it's resided predominantly in southern counties, including Grand, San Juan, Emery, and east into the Uintahs and Duchesne, cutting across three-quarters of the state, Peterson said.

The heath department is "always keeping surveillance up" to see if they're infecting people in Utah. If a kissing bug passes the disease on to a person, Peterson said, health officials will investigate and notify the public.

To stay clear of kissing bugs for your and your animals' sake, make sure the area around your home is clean, Peterson said.

"They usually come out at night," he said, explaining that people usually don't know their house serves as a home for the insects. But if you spot their nest or their fecal matter, contact a pest control agency, Peterson said.

It's also always a good idea to seal your house to try to prevent bugs from coming inside.

Stay clear of ticks, mosquitoes and bees

Insects that we should be more cautious of in spring are ticks and mosquitoes, according to the epidemiologist. He said lot of people in Utah have already been bitten by ticks this year, and mosquito season will begin soon.

"Ticks are definitely out in abundance right now; they're trying to find a good source. So if you're up hiking or anything, make sure you check yourself for ticks," Peterson explained.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

The CDC suggests treating clothes and gear with permethrin and using repellents containing DEET. When returning home, do a full body and clothing check for ticks — and take a shower, according to the CDC.

When it comes to mosquitoes, make sure there's no standing water around your home for them to live in. With all the rain the state has had, Peterson thinks it might be a "big season" for them this year.

Other insects of concern include invasive species that are bugging the Utah Department of Agriculture.

State entomologist Kristopher Watson says he and his department are monitoring Africanized — or "killer" — honeybees, which can be more aggressive than the bees we're used to. They've migrated into San Juan, Kane, Garfield, Wayne, Grand, Emery and Washington counties, with other counties at risk.

"When we find that they do have African genetics, then we will alert the county and alert the first responders of that county so that they know if they go into a situation where they get a phone call about a bee-related incident, that they can protect themselves so that they don't become part of the situation. That they can help out with the situation," Watson said.

If you come into contact with bees that might be Africanized, Watson said, "just stay clear and give them the respect that all bees should be given to make sure that there's no aggression and aggravation of the colony to promote them to attack."

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A Parasitic Bug Has Been Spotted Throughout Utah And Its Bite Can Be Deadly

Posted in UtahNature July 13, 2019by Catherine Armstrong

There’s a new insect in Utah, and you’re going to want to keep an eye out for it. Triatominae are a type of parasitic insect that’s commonly called the kissing bug. Sounds cute, doesn’t it? Don’t be fooled – these little bugs carry a disease that can be deadly, and you’re going to be absolutely disgusted when you hear how the disease is transmitted to humans.

During these uncertain times, please keep safety in mind and consider adding destinations to your bucket list to visit at a later date.

Judy Gallagher/flickr

The bug can be infected with T.cruzi, a parasite that transmits Chagas disease. The disease can have some serious complications, and can even cause death.

Jon Huss/flickr

While the bug is biting and feeding off your blood, it typically poops near that spot. The parasite that carries the Chagas disease lives in the kissing bug's poop, and when you rub your face, you can smear the poop into your eye or mouth. Soon, you'll have millions of parasites swimming in your bloodstream.

Chanin Wardkhian/Getty Images

Early symptoms of Chagas disease are similar to the flu: fever, vomiting, muscle aches, and diarrhea. One tell-tale sign is a swollen eyelid which is caused by wiping the kissing bug's poop into your eye. If caught early enough, the disease can be treated with an anti-parasitic drug. If it's not treated, Chagas disease is chronic, and you'll suffer its side effects for the rest of your life. Complications include an enlarged heart, colon, or esophagus. You might suffer from abnormal heart rhythm which can eventually cause cardiac arrest and death.


Curtis-Robles et al./Wikimedia Commons

There are 11 species found here in America, and they're usually black or dark brown, with orange, yellow, or red stripes along the edge of their wings. They have long antennae and a cone-shaped head.

gailhampshire from Cradley, Malvern, U.K/Wikimedia

Kissing bugs generally sleep during the day when it's hot, then come out at night when it's cooler. They like to hang out in the cracks of porches and foundations, in piles of rocks or wood, and inside dog houses or chicken coops. They're drawn to the heat and odors of humans and animals.

Dan Ruscoe/flickr

The CDC recommends that you inspect your home and yard. Seal up any cracks or gaps in concrete around your house. Use screens on window and doors and repair them if they're torn. Clear rocks or piles of brush away from your property, and store your woodpile in a location away from the house. Have your pets sleep indoors, and keep outdoor areas such as chicken coops as clean as possible.

For more information about the kissing bug and Chagas disease, visit the CDC’s website. Have you seen these insects around your home or yard?

You Can’t Unsee the Assassin Bug’s Dirty Work - Deep Look

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Assassin Bug Confronts A Spider


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