|An Eastern Bloodsucking Conenose - a Kissing Bug - found during the Arlington Bioblitz|
Among the neat finds made during the first ever Arlington Bioblitz in 2017 was made by one of our distinguished experts: former Smithsonian entomologist Warren Steiner. I've had the honor to be in the field several times with Warren, and he always makes some fascinating observations and discoveries. But they're usually in his specialty of beetles. This time around it was a true bug.
Not just any bug mind you, but one with which I've had an interesting past with. He found what is known as Triatoma sanguisuga, formally called the Eastern Blood-sucking Conenose. But I knew it by another name when I first encountered it. My encounter happened several years ago in El Salvador.
Since my wife's family is from El Salvador (she was born in Honduras however), I was on one of my extended visits. As her family lives in a very humble setting without a lot of the things such as running water one is often accustomed to, you do without a few creature comforts. You also are living among the chickens, ducks, dogs, cats and other regular household creatures who often share your hand-carved habitation. This also includes mosquitoes and other insects.
The custom is then to use mosquito netting and run a fan. I had taken the normal precautions, but they did not deter a night time visitor, one that went under the mosquitero. I woke the next morning with the customary roosters calling, but with a greatly swollen lip. In fact, it was stiff as cardboard and even affected my speech. I had been "kissed" by a kissing bug!
Kissing bugs are assassin bugs who have specialized their diet to include blood meals. There are various species throughout the Americas, including the Eastern Blood-sucking Conenose who it is believed ranges throughout the Americas. They in fact need a blood meal in order to lay eggs.
Normally this is obtained from small mammals, but they will not pass up any blood meal they can, including humans. They are sometimes called Mexican Bedbugs. They often are attracted to moisture, such as from the edges of your lips, thus their common moniker of "kissing bugs."
The one I encountered had decided to kiss me in my sleep. At the moment it happens, I can attest, you do not feel a thing. But later on you can get some sometimes serious reactions. Some folks get an allergic reaction. I was lucky it seems to just get a fat lip. But the most feared reaction is if you get infected with the incurable Chagas' disease.
My own family is from Peru, where as in other parts of South America, it is possible to get infected by Chagas', something I was well aware of. So while every one else found a lot of humor in my huge cardboard-like lip and speech impediment, I was a bit concerned. Luckily for me, the South American kissing bugs are much more likely to infect you with the protozoa Trypanosoma cruzi which causes the illness.This is due to their feeding habit, where they often defecate onto the wound which increases the odds of transmission. The Eastern Blood-sucking Conenose does not do so and so has a much less chance of transmission. Lucky for me, as I just had to deal with the disfigured lip for the whole day, but the joking continued for much longer.
So I was very surprised when Warren relayed that he had found one during the Bioblitz, showing it to me in a cup. I really had thought they were a Latin American thing. Instead they are more widespread, though more common in the South. It may very well have been the same species who snuck into bed with me to steal a kiss. I never thought I'd find another one around here, or that I'd kiss and tell...