Assassin Bug close up on branch
Sarah Biren
Sarah Biren
June 19, 2024 ·  4 min read

What Are Assassin Bugs, and What Do You Do If You’re Bitten By One?

As if people needed another insect to worry about. For those who love the outdoors, summertime means protection from mosquitoes, black flies, ticks, and more. But now there is a new species to look out for, the assassin bug, and its numbers are on the rise in the southern United States. They can deliver painful bites when provoked and some can carry diseases.

What is an Assassin Bug?

Assassin bugs (family Reduviidae) are predatory insects that are of great benefit to gardeners.
Source: Shutterstock

There are different species of assassin bugs with different traits and physical attributes. Many are colored black or brown while others are red, yellow, or orange. Their bodies tend to be oval-shaped with a small head, long antennae, and thin wings. They have three mouth sections, which include a proboscis to drink from their prey’s bodies like with a straw. Hatchlings are called nymphs and have different appearances from adults.

Assassin bugs are predators that feed on other insects, so they inhabit trees and grassy areas where they can hunt bees, flies, caterpillars, and more. This makes them helpful bugs to have in gardens because they can provide free pest control. However, they can enter homes through tears in screens, open doors and windows, and other cracks and crevices. 

Read More: 6 Essential Oils You Need to Repel Bugs All Summer Long

The Dangers

Assassin bug  (thread-legged bug) scientific name rhynochoris iracundus, taken in Geneva, CH.
Source: Shutterstock

Assassin bugs generally don’t bother people but they can bite if they feel threatened. Their bites are venomous and extremely painful. They can be treated by washing the area, applying antiseptic cream, and taking over-the-counter painkillers. However, seek professional medical attention if there are any changes to the skin or if there are symptoms of an allergic reaction like itchy hives, swelling, or difficulty breathing.

Kissing Bugs

A kissing bug, often known in Latin America as vinchuca, spreads Chagas disease. You can have it and not even know it.
Source: Shutterstock

Kissing bugs fall into the same family as assassin bugs but they are not the same. For one thing, they present a unique type of danger. While assassin bugs can deal a nasty bite, kissing bugs can infect humans with a parasite called Trypanosoma cruzi. Not all kissing bugs contain the parasite but about half of them have one in their gut. The parasite can cause the rare but potentially fatal Chagas disease, which involves symptoms like headaches, fever, fatigue, rashes, swelling around the eyes, and aching around the body.

When kissing bugs feed on people, they tend to creep up on them while they’re sleeping, bite around the mouth area, suck their blood, and excrete on their faces. So if the bug contains the parasite and the person wakes up and gets the excretion into their orifices or bite wounds, they can get infected. Although Chagas disease is treatable, it can be life-threatening if left unattended, especially for people with weakened immune systems. The symptoms are similar to many other benign conditions — or there may be no symptoms — so it may be difficult to know if a person has the infection or not. Therefore, it’s important to prevent bugs from entering the home if this species is local. But bear in mind, this condition is rare.

Read More: 9 Home Remedies to Help Get Rid of Bedbugs

Assassin Bug Infestation

Source: Shutterstock

If assassin bugs or kissing bugs infiltrate your home, contact a professional exterminator to get rid of them as soon as possible. 

If you wake up with a bite, it might be difficult to know what bug did it. So look around for a bug that might be the culprit. Wearing gloves, catch the bug, place it in a plastic bag or container, and freeze it so a lab can test it for an infection if needed. Label it with the date, time of day it was found, and where it was found. 

Prevention

Extreme macro closeup of the face of an Orange Assassin Bug Nymph showing it's pointed fang, isolated on a white background
Source: Shutterstock

Remember, most people in the U.S. don’t need to worry about assassin bugs or kissing bugs. Even so, the best way to treat an infestation—of any kind—is by preventing one. So if you see bugs convening around your yard, be sure to install door sweeps, fix torn screens, replace weather stripping, and seal cracks in walls. Keep chicken coops, dog kennels, and other outdoor animal cages away from your house if possible, and clear away piles of wood, rocks, and leaves. At night, turn off the outdoor lights so they won’t attract any unwanted visitors. Remember to wear protective clothes and apply insect repellent when venturing into the great outdoors. 

Read More: These bugs come out at nighttime, and attacking victims, they silently kill or leave them with a lifelong infection

Sources

  1. “assassin bug.” Britannica. June 3, 2024
  2. “Assassin Bugs.” Pest World.
  3. Lori M. King, PhD. “What Are Kissing Bugs? Do They Make You Sick?” WebMD. December 27, 2023