Things Bad About Spring: Return of Biting Insects

Assassin bugs are usually encountered when they are hunting in foliage. They use the long sharp proboscis on their head to secure and eat their victims.

Assassin bugs are usually encountered when they are hunting in foliage. They use the long sharp proboscis on their head to secure and eat their victims.

Les Harrison is the UF/IFAS Wakulla County Extension Director

Florida is famous for beautiful beaches, sunny weather and abundant wildlife within a wide variety of ecosystems. These are the features which make living here great. With all that to love, what could possibly make one reconsider? There is one hurdle to living in this paradise. The bugs.

The likely top candidate for the list of “Things Bad About Spring” are the return of biting insects. Mosquitoes and no-see-ums begin their historical practice of flight and bite as soon as the thermometer allows. The exotic varieties, like the Asian Tiger Mosquito, only add to the residents’ displeasure after finally being able to shed the cumbersome wardrobe of winter.

In addition to the ever unpopular winged nuisances, there are other predators lurking with a taste which includes humans. Two top annoyances are the aptly named kissing bug and the assassin bug.

The native kissing bug, Triatoma sanguisuga, is closely related to the assassin bug. This insect is commonly called a kissing bug because it targets the soft tissues around the mouth of mammals as a feeding site.

As if being in the assassin bug’s family is not bad enough for its reputation, this pest’s South American cousin is responsible for inoculating victims with Chagas disease. Chagas disease, a protozoan infliction, has occurred in some western states but not Florida.

The bloodsucking conenose found in Wakulla County is a brown, winged bug, 3/4 inch long, with the edges of its abdomen alternating in light and dark colors. They have a slender, straight beak with piercing-sucking mouthparts. The antennae are inserted on the side of the head between the eyes and the end of the beak.

They are rarely seen during the day, instead hiding in leaf litter and other debris near their intended host. Birds apparently consider them quite tasty and are easy targets for avian predators.

Kissing bugs primarily feed at night on the blood of sleeping animals, such as raccoons and opossums which burrow in the vicinity.
The life cycle may vary considerably depending on temperature, humidity, and availability of hosts. Females lay one egg at a time, up to five eggs each day.

Problems arise when these insects encounter humans. If this creature enters a home or dwelling, its nocturnal habits make humans easy prey.

The bloodsucking conenose will enter into a home by crawling through cracks in the foundation, torn window screens, or other structural flaws or inadequacies. Many times they enter by simply clinging to a domestic pet or to the clothing of an unaware person. Once indoors, they are found in bedding, cracks in the floors and walls, or under furniture.

Most bites from conenose bugs are rarely felt. However, some can be quite painful and infection can occur if the bite wounds are scratched and contaminated.

The assassin bug, the entomological cousin of the kissing bug, usually is encounter in foliage and has little inclination to enter homes. Reduviidae, as it is known scientifically, can still deliver a nasty surprise to the unsuspecting gardeners who disturb this ambush predator.

The green leaves and pretty flowers are an ideal habitat for the assassin bug and the kissing bug to put the bite on ideal menu selections. Something to keep in mind this spring when enjoying the Wakulla County’s great outdoors.

For more information on assassin bugs, see the EDIS documents for the Eastern Bloodsucking Conenose and the Wheel Bug (Florida’s native assassin bug).

To learn more about the assassin bug or the kissing bug, contact your UF/IFAS Wakulla Extension Office at 850-926-3931 or http://blogs.ifas.ufl.edu/wakullaco/

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