An assassin bug infestation is no laughing matter. If you’ve ever dealt with these pests before, you know how frustrating it can be to have them on your property.
Although some types of assassin bugs are completely harmless to humans and would rather spend their entire life cycles outside in your garden, munching on garden pests, than bothering you, there is one type – the kissing bug (Paratriatoma hirsuta, Panstrongylus megistus) – that is particularly harmful.
If you have a kissing bug problem in your home, there are some steps you should take to control and get rid of them forever. Don’t worry, many of these steps are super easy to follow!
Table of Contents:
What Are Assassin Bugs?
Assassin bugs are voracious pest predators that can be found all over the southern portions of the United States along with Central and South America.
There are thousands of types of assassin bugs around the world, and more than 200 that are exclusive to North America. Some of the most common include:
- Wheel bug
- Kissing bug
- Milkweed assassin bug
- Spined assassin bug
- Elongate assassin bug
- Predatory stink bugs
- Minute pirate bugs
- Damsel bugs
- Big-eyed bugs
Some of these types of bugs are known to feed on garden pests, while others prefer a blood meal. They can live in all areas of the garden as well as in your home.
Are Assassin Bugs and Kissing Bugs the Same Thing?
There are several types of assassin bugs, but kissing bugs are the ones that tend to get all of the attention. These dark brown or black insects have orange or red spots along their bodies.
Also known as cone-nosed bugs, they are similar to mosquitoes in that they feed on blood from people and animals.
They get their name from their propensity to feed around the mouth area of their victims.
Often, these pests hide during the day and come out at night to feed. They can survive for weeks without feeding, only needing blood in order to molt and reproduce.
Kissing bugs are most likely to be found in homes, dog houses, barns, wooded areas, chicken coops, and even bat caves.
Since they drink blood, they like to hang out where warm-blooded creatures live. Garden pests are of no interest to them.
Kissing bugs are dangerous because they harbor parasites known to cause Chagas disease. Although this disease is not common in the United States, the bites alone can cause severe itching and allergic reactions.
Kissing bugs are found in the warmer areas of the country. If you experience a hard frost each year, chances are, you don’t have kissing bugs. They can be found in Mexico, Central America, and South America, too.
Once they get inside, they will hide all over your house, including in mattresses, walls, floors, beds, and furniture.
They are often found in and around places where pets, like cats and dogs, spend a lot of time, as well as near animal burros (particularly those of rodents). They also tend to occupy the spaces near beds.
How to Identify Kissing Bugs
Knowing what a kissing bug looks like and actually seeing one are two different things. These bugs are quite secretive, and it’s not likely that you’ll see one flying around during the day. You might see them flocking to outdoor lights at night.
Kissing bugs look similar to other types of assassin bugs. Their backs are formed in a shield-shape, but otherwise, there are some differences between the predators.
Wheel bugs are quite large, usually measuring in at more than an inch and a half long, while kissing bugs are about half this size. Kissing bugs have red or orange markings, and are otherwise quite dark in color.
All types have long, three-segment beaks that are needle-sharp, along with round eyes and narrow heads.
The only other sign of infestation would be the bites that they produce on your skin (although sometimes you may also see white or black feces around your home).
These bites are large, red, and itchy, often clustered together in groups of up to fifteen, but otherwise, they look exactly like the bites from other types of insects.
Why Are Assassin Bugs a Problem?
Not all assassin bugs are problematic – in fact, some species, like ambush bugs, are actually quite beneficial in a garden setting. However, almost all assassin bugs administer a bite, and sometimes, these bites can be painful.
Kissing bugs usually only cause mild pain and redness, and since they bite at night, you may not even know you were bitten until welts appear. Bites from other types of assassin bugs, like wheel bugs, can be as painful as the sting of a hornet.
The real problem with assassin bugs – or kissing bugs, to be specific – is that they carry a dangerous protozoan named Trypanosoma cruzi.
This parasite has the ability to cause Chagas disease. They don’t carry it in their blood or their bite but instead in their feces.
When a kissing bug bites you, it will deposit its feces on your face immediately after. If you rub your feces into the skin, you could become infected (this often happens when you scratch the itchy bite).
Although Chagas disease is relatively rare in the United States, it is growing more common as the reach of kissing bugs expands. It is often asymptomatic, producing few symptoms beyond a fever or headache at its onset.
However, this seemingly benign disease has an incubation period. It will lie in wait in you for ten, twenty, or thirty years, striking later on in your life and producing dangerous symptoms like heart failure and even dementia.
Therefore, a population of assassin bugs in or around your house is not something to be taken lightly. You need to be vigilant for signs of infestation and get rid of the pests once you realize you have a problem.
Benefits of Assassin Bugs
There is one place you might want to find an assassin bug – in your garden. These creatures can help get rid of all kinds of small insects, including aphids, squash bugs, and more. However, they are indiscriminate, so they may go after beneficial insects, like lady beetles, too.
When assassin bugs kill their prey, they do so by piercing the bodies of the victims with their long rostrums. They inject a toxin that paralyzes the insect and liquefies its insides. Then, the assassin bug drinks the liquid through the rostrum, leaving behind just a shell.
Even if you have just a tiny garden – or perhaps a few container plants – there is a good chance that you have assassin bugs living in it.
These creatures can be found on and around all kinds of plants, including in vegetable gardens, ornamental flower beds, orchards, and more.
During the autumn months, female assassin bugs leave their eggs beneath leaves and in other plant crevices. These eggs overwinter before hatching into nymphs the next spring.
The nymphs proceed through a variety of growth stages, shedding their skin in the molting process each time. By the time summer arrives, the nymphs have reached adulthood.
Assassin bugs are often drawn to your garden by flowers. They aren’t often harmed by narrow-spectrum pesticides and will happily gobble up the other insect pests in your garden.
That being said, there are really only two types of assassin bugs that you want in your garden -ambush bugs and wheel bugs. These two species are commonly found there, as they prey on insects.
The kissing bug, the type of assassin bug that prefers to feed on blood, is not usually found in such a location as it would rather hang out close to you.
Tips for Preventing and Controlling an Assassin Bug Infestation
Kissing bugs can be difficult to get rid of. They are relatively small and good at hiding, referring to lurk in the crevices and cracks in your home. Here they lay their eggs, so once an infestation sets in, it can be tough to kill.
Luckily, there are some simple steps you can follow to get rid of these pests in your house.
Inspect Your Property
Take some time to thoroughly inspect your property and to rule out any potential assassin bug-friendly hiding spots. Check places like your chicken coop, barn, dog house, and bedroom for signs of infestation.
Even if you don’t see any, now is a good time to inspect your property for areas where assassin bugs could get inside. This is one of the best things you can do to prevent a kissing bug infestation!
Check that your mattress, walls, floors, foundation, windows, and other structures in your home don’t have any cracks, crevices, or holes. If they do, take note, and come back to them later.
Seal Up Cracks
After you’ve done a good, thorough inspection of your property, take some time to make sure your house is insect-proof. Note that this is a great way to keep assassin bugs out along with other types of pests, like flies, too!
Seal up any gaps around doors and windows and make sure any cracks in screens or walls are filled in. You may need to use some heavy-duty material in order to do this.
Don’t forget about the openings for plumbing pipes, cables, and utility lines, either, or even cracks in your foundation. Replacing worn or missing weather stripping can also keep assassin bugs out.
Rethink Fido’s Sleeping Situation
If you have pets that regularly spend their time outdoors during the day, you may want to reconsider where they sleep at night.
Letting your pets sleep indoors at night is a good idea, since assassin bugs are more likely to find your pets when they’re sleeping outside.
They are drawn to their warm breath. If you leave a light burning outdoors at night that is located somewhere near your pet’s shelter, an infestation is even more likely.
However, you shouldn’t let your pet sleep in your bedroom. If your dog has picked up an assassin bug for a ride, you don’t want him transporting it into where you sleep. Regardless of where you choose to let your pet sleep, make sure you clean it often.
Check your pet’s fur on a regular basis to make sure no kissing bugs are hiding inside. This will also help you hunt down other types of pests that like to hitch a ride, such as ticks.
Use a Bug Zapper
Using an indoor bug zapper can help you get rid of these nocturnal pests. Since they hide in dark, sheltered locations during the day, they can be hard to find, but at night, they’ll be drawn to the tempting light of an indoor bug zapper – which will kill them upon contact.
Simply set up your bug zapper in a location where kissing bugs might hide out. It may take you some time to get rid of all them, but it’s a safe and natural way for you to do so.
Clean Things Up Outdoors
Assassin bugs, when found outdoors, tend to hang out in dark, secluded locations – much like other kinds of pests. To keep them away from you, make sure you move any firewood piles or rock piles away from the house.
They aren’t likely to hang out in dense vegetation, but keeping things mowed, trimmed, and cleaned up around the house can help eliminate other pests, too.
Remember, kissing bugs like to feed on the blood of other organisms – so getting rid of potential targets should also get rid of these pests, too.
Consider the Coop
If you have chickens, you might be concerned that assassin bugs can go after your chickens or contaminate their eggs. After all, these pests like hanging out in coops, since they tend to be dark, quiet, and secluded.
Although certain types of assassin bugs – like the blood-sucking kissing bug – will feed on chickens, chickens are poor hosts for the Chagas parasite. As a result, luckily, chickens cannot get Chagas disease, nor can the parasites be spread to the eggs.
However, you may find that the more often you allow your chickens to free-range, the fewer of these pests you have around.
Assassin bugs aren’t particularly tasty to chickens, but they may gobble them up from time to time as about 15% of a chicken’s diet is comprised of the occasional bug.
If assassin bugs are a serious problem, you might want to consider adding some guinea hens.
There is no hard evidence that guineas are particularly effective against assassin bugs in particular, but 90% of a guinea hen’s diet is comprised of insects (such as, most famously, ticks) – so there’s a good chance that an assassin bug will become an untimely victim.
At the very least, guinea hens eat bugs that assassin bugs might also try to eat. Reduce the food source, and you might find that you have fewer assassin bugs around, too.
Add Essential Oils
Some people swear by using essential oils to keep kissing bugs out of the house. If you do this, you may want to use insect-repelling oils like lemon or eucalyptus oil.
Sprinkle these near potential entry points, or burn them in a diffuser.
Use Some Food Grade Diatomaceous Earth
Food grade diatomaceous earth may take some time to have any effect, but it can be an effective way to get rid of kissing bugs.
Diatomaceous earth is not harmful to pets or children and is simply the crushed-up exoskeletons of fossilized organisms. It is extremely sharp to kissing bugs, cutting them when they walk across it. It causes them to dry out and eventually die.
Sprinkle food-grade diatomaceous earth around any potential entry point to your home, or in places where you think kissing bugs may be apt to hide.
Swap Up Your Lightbulbs
Outdoors, you may want to rethink your lighting. Assassin bugs flock to porch lights when they’re turned on at night.
Swapping your regular bulbs for bug light bulbs can help reduce populations around the house. Bug light bulbs are usually those that are bright yellow instead of some other color.
In addition, you should make sure to close exterior doors tightly, especially at night.
Contact a Pest Control Company
If you’re dealing with an indoor infestation of kissing bugs, it may be best for you to contact a pest control company.
There are plenty of steps you can take to prevent an infestation, but once these bugs have settled in for the long haul, they might be difficult to get rid of without professional help.
Plus, if you need to administer insecticides to get rid of the kissing bugs, you should only rely on a professional to do it. These chemicals can be dangerous around pets and children, so it’s best to leave it to the pros.
Get Medical Attention If You Are Bitten
If you are bitten by a kissing bug, chances are, you’ll be fine. But it’s important to seek medical attention either way, as Chagas disease can be treated and sometimes eliminated with medication if caught early enough. Plus, some people have allergic reactions that can be life-threatening.
Either way, take the time to wash the bites with warm, soapy water to reduce the chance of infection. You may also want to use an anti-itch cream like calamine or an ice pack to stop the swelling and the itching.
This will not only make you feel better, but it will also reduce the likelihood that you’ll dig and pick at the bites, which can worsen the likelihood of contracting Chagas disease.
Be Proactive Instead of Reactive
The best tip you can follow to control and get rid of assassin bugs is to be proactive instead of reactive. These pests are opportunistic, and will seize any opportunity they can get to come inside your home and feast upon your blood while you are asleep.
Therefore, it’s important that you implement good preventative measures to keep these pests out.
Keep your home and the area around it neat and tidy, and inspect it on a regular basis for signs of assassin bugs, as well as other types of pests.
With a little bit of vigilance and luck, you won’t have to deal with any kind of bug in the house – at least not kissing bugs, anyway!
Rebekah is a high-school English teacher n New York, where she lives on a 22 acre homestead. She raises and grows chickens, bees, and veggies such as zucchini (among other things).