A kissing bug is a bloodsucking night crawler belonging to a group of bugs closely related to assassins. To my horror, I learned kissing bugs are not like love bugs, as I’d initially confused the names. And now I may never sleep again.
Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico are the biggest harborers of kissing bugs in the US. Besides the US, kissing bug species exist in New Mexico, South, and Central America. They’re one of Texas’ deadliest insects.
Unfortunately, kissing bugs can live in houses. A kissing bug living in or around your home doesn’t have to travel far for its next meal. It crawls onto the face of a sleeping host, then sets up shop to hijack blood.
Kissing bugs will hang out and eat for at least 10 minutes and may indulge for as long as 30. The carbon dioxide from your breath as you exhale attracts the kissing bug. That’s what gives them a reputation.
They’re known for “kissing”, or biting faces, specifically, the area near the lips or around the eyes. However, kissing bugs are also drawn to body heat, so it isn’t unusual for them to end up biting other parts of the body, too. It’s easy to miss a kissing bug when you see one, as other bugs may share similar features.
However, kissing bugs will have all of these features as well as unique behaviors, as opposed to only some. The following bugs listed in this article might be mistaken for kissing bugs.
How Do You Tell if a Bug is a Kissing Bug?
A kissing bug is usually around an inch long and has a straight, thick, piercing mouth. It’s mostly black or brown and may have some orange or red coloring around its pear-shaped body. Its head is long and the eyes bug out.
Its legs are smooth, without any spikes, hairs, or spines. They can live for up to two years in North America, while other species of kissing bugs can see more than several generations within one year. South America’s kissing bugs may live up to 7 months without feeding.
Because they’re nocturnal, kissing bugs sleep during the day, then come out at night to eat. Indoors, they can lay eggs in dark corners, around beds, behind couches, or in other hiding spots. Kissing bugs are notoriously hard to catch because of their elusive behavior.
1. Leaf-Footed Bug
The leaf-footed bug is recognizable by its legs, parts of which fan out similar to the shape of a small leaf. Researchers at A&M note that the leaf bug is often mistaken for the kissing bug and is one of several other bugs commonly mistaken. Leaf-footed bugs are part of the family of bugs known as Coreidae and are most similar to kissing bugs in their dark color.
Usually, leaf-footed bugs are oval-shaped and may appear slender or broad, depending on the species. They mostly eat sap from plants during the day and sleep at night. They’re mainly seen living on conifer trees where they may lay eggs among the needles.
The leaf-footed bug and squash bug are in the same family as well and have relatively short life spans. They live for only about 2 weeks.
2. Brown Marmorated Stink Bug
Stink bugs are the name for many types of bugs that are often mistaken for kissing bugs although their shapes are pretty unique. Native to Japan and Korea, it was found in Pennsylvania in the mid to late 90s. The brown marmorated stink bug feeds on more than one-hundred plant species and is frequently considered a pest for destroying resources like cotton and apple crops.
Like the kissing bug, marmorated stink bugs are known as “true bugs”, or sucking bugs. However, unlike a kissing bug, the brown marmorated stink bug eats the juice from flowers and plants rather than the blood of mammals. Stink bugs prefer warmth, so when temperatures become cooler, stink bugs begin to hibernate, their metabolism slows down, and they’re able to survive without eating throughout the winter, until summer.
3. Bordered Plant Bug
A native to the north and south pacific coastal regions of the US, the bordered plant bug gets its name from the light-colored outline around its body, which looks like a border. A bordered plant bug is commonly mistaken for a kissing bug, probably because of its oval shape, dark color, and orange-red markings. However, it’s a plant-eating bug that survives on soft plant parts like the flowers and also eats fruit.
Bordered plant bugs are usually about half an inch long and can be found in gardens or among other plants in groups. Adult bordered bugs may live anywhere between two and seven months.
4. Damsel Bug
With their long legs and large, round eyes, damsel bugs are often mistaken for kissing bugs, assassin bugs, and other plant bugs. Damsel bugs look like kissing bugs, only lighter in color. They’re usually found among alfalfa fields, legume fields, as well as other crops.
They eat insects and, like other predatory bugs, have a beak-like mouth with which to puncture their prey and suck out the juice. Because they eat bugs that commonly kill garden plants, damsel bugs are not considered pests, rather, they’re helpful allies. And they seem to have an insatiable appetite for the endless variety of insects on their menu.
Their diet includes but is not limited to caterpillars, larvae, insect eggs, potato beetles, corn earworms, armyworms, and leafhoppers. They’ve been known to eat their own predators on occasion. And while they’ll go two weeks without food, after that, they don’t even mind eating each other.
While damsel bugs may eat their friends to survive, other predatory bugs of the same family (Reduviidae) go to similar survival extremes to blend into their surroundings. Found in Malaysia and east Africa, an assassin bug known as the Acanthaspis petax, is famous for carrying around a mound of dead ants, sometimes as many as 20 dead ant carcasses at a time. Binding the dead ants together with a sticky discharge, the Acanthaspis petax fashions the ant carcasses into a ball and hauls it around like camping gear.
Apparently, the mound of dead ant carcasses strapped to its back makes the famous bug appear bigger and less vulnerable to potential predators. It’s hard to believe that size is the ultimate deterrent in this situation.
5. Milkweed Bug
A sucking insect, the milkweed bug eats the stems of milkweed plants as well as the seeds and leaves. Milkweed bugs are found hanging on the leaves of milkweed plants, often in small groups. Because the milkweed plant is toxic, the milkweed bug contains the toxic enzymes it consumes from it.
The life cycle of a milkweed bug is very short as they usually live for about one month. Some can survive the winter by sheltering under plants or leaves and hibernating, while others have been known to migrate somewhere warmer for winter and fall.
6. Red and Black Assassin Bug
Red and black assassin bugs are sometimes referred to as milkweed assassin bugs as they look very similar to milkweed bugs. But while a milkweed bug eats plants and seeds, they don’t eat other insects. Milkweed assassins, on the other hand, do.
Assassin bugs share a strict insectivorous diet. A milkweed assassin uses its sharp, beak-like mouth to inject a toxin into its prey to liquefy its insides. Kind of like making a smoothie, which it can then drink.
What is the Difference Between an Assassin Bug and a Kissing Bug?
Kissing bugs and assassin bugs are frequently mistaken to be one and the same. They are closely related. However, unlike assassin bugs which eat only insects, kissing bugs eat the blood of both mammals and sometimes invertebrates.
Because of their direct contact with the open wound they create in their host to suck blood, they can spread a serious disease known as Chagas, the illness caused by the parasite that lives in the kissing bug’s digestive tract. There are eleven different species of kissing bugs in the US and about half are thought to carry this parasite. Insectivorous bugs typically don’t bite humans unless they’re handled poorly or feel threatened.
Insectivorous bugs don’t use humans as a food source, either. But some kissing bugs are known to use humans and their pets as a primary food source.
7. Masked Hunter
A masked hunter is an entirely dark-colored bug and doesn’t have the typical cone-shaped mouth like a kissing bug. Instead, a masked hunter has a stout, beak-like mouth and a small round head. But they’re similar in size and slightly similar in shape to kissing bugs.
So, they are often mistaken for one another. The masked hunter is native to Europe but is now common in North America. Unlike kissing bugs, masked hunters don’t go after humans and are predatory towards insects.
If you have a bed bug infestation, masked hunters may be close by too, as bed bugs are a part of their diet. Masked hunters won’t attack you unless they feel threatened and, unlike kissing bugs, a masked hunter’s bite is painful. You can find masked hunters living outside under piles of wood.
They are attracted to lights and can end up in homes but, unlike kissing bugs, they don’t carry disease.
8. Wheel Bug
The wheel bug is an unmistakable assassin bug because of the wheel-like part on its back resembling a gear or a circular saw. It lives mostly in the southern parts of the US. Like other assassin bugs, the wheel bug feeds on insects and has a beak-like mouth to kill its prey.
Wheel bugs eat by sucking out the insides of their kill, similar to spiders. The wheel bug is bigger than the kissing bug by about half an inch, although from a distance it might appear similar. Like the masked hunter, if you are bitten by a wheel bug, be prepared for a painful experience.
9. Western Conifer Seed Bug
Native to parts of North America including California, Idaho, and Nevada, the western conifer seed bug has expanded to the east and is now found in states like Maine, New York, and Pennsylvania. It’s often confused with stink bugs and kissing bugs because of the pheromone it emits and uses as a self-defense mechanism and because of its solid brown appearance. The adult western conifer seed bug can fly and makes a buzzing sound when in the air.
10. Western Bloodsucking Conenose
The western bloodsucking conenose is part of the same family of bugs as the kissing bug. Like the kissing bug, a western bloodsucking conenose will bite a host, usually near the mouth while they’re asleep. This species is usually just under an inch long and is found mostly in the western part of the US, in addition to Mexico, and may invade a home if the opportunity is presented.
However, they’re primarily found living in and near the nests of wild animals, like wild rats. The bite of a bloodsucking conenose is not painful, which allows it to feed without being disturbed. A host may never even know they were bit except for a cluster of bites in one area that may itch.
Although it’s a bit disturbing that western conenose bugs can drink up to five times their own body weight. And while typically, conenose bugs will leave after they’re done eating, sometimes they’re found in bedding if they’re too stuffed to move. A bloodsucking conenose can live for about a year, hatching in the summer and autumn months.
11. Eastern Boxelder
While it may look alarming because of the bright-orange X on its back, the eastern boxelder is a harmless bug. But don’t tell that to its enemies. Bright colors usually indicate that a creature is poisonous and shouldn’t be messed with.
Consider those black and neon-colored frogs, for instance. Those bright marks might be the eastern boxelder bug’s best form of defense against predators. The markings on a boxelder’s back can help fake out potential predators, giving the impression that it’s toxic and shouldn’t be eaten, even if it isn’t.
Boxelder bugs live on and around boxelder trees, their only food source. So anywhere a boxelder tree grows, you’re likely to find the boxelder bug. It’s often mistaken for a kissing bug.
However, the boxelder bug is a plant-eater and, instead of insect juice or blood, it prefers plant juice and feeding on the leaves that grow on trees. Boxelder bugs become dormant in the winter and come around again in the spring. A warm house might attract boxelder bugs because they’re drawn to the light and warmth of spring.
12. Longhorn Beetle
Longhorn beetles have super long antennae that resemble the horns of a Texas longhorn, a hybrid cattle native to Texas. Longhorn beetles are distinguishable from kissing bugs because of their antennae. However, without that feature, the differences are more blurry.
Feeding mostly on wood, the longhorn beetle is a plant-eating bug. It can become a nuisance to humans if it eats the wood inside a home or building and causes damage. Longhorn beetles find leaves and twigs to eat in addition to trees, including willow, maple, elm, and other hardwood trees.
Females live approximately 15 days longer than male longhorn beetles. Together, they can live from 50 to 66 days after they fully hatch. Longhorn beetles don’t bite and they don’t prey on humans.
They’re native to China and Korea and now longhorn beetles are also found in the US. They can grow to be 1 to 1.5 inches long. Because longhorn beetles eat bark and lay their eggs beneath it, they’re known for damaging trees of various types, all across the US.
13. Squash Bug
Found in North America, squash bugs are found in pumpkins and in squash patches. Squash bugs may be harmful to plants, though not to humans, as they carry bacteria that can cause yellow vine disease. Squash bugs are about half the size of kissing bugs and while they’re mostly brown, they may have gold spots on their abdomen.
Squash bugs eat sap in addition to fruit, stems, pumpkins, and squash. Unlike kissing bugs, squash bugs have a short lifespan, living up to approximately 130 days. They hide at night, travel in groups, and may be found under debris, wood, or rocks during winter.