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Let's Go Outside | Commentary by Evelyne Vandersande
| Thursday, Sep 17, 2015

evelynevandersande_mugA few weeks ago, Leon Worden posted a photo of a bug killing a bee in his backyard and called it an assassin bug.

The only problem was that he posted it on the Placerita Canyon Nature Center Facebook page. Social media can turn on you, with experts watching your every step. There were a few friendly comments; compliments about the photo that was well taken; and then the dreaded question appeared: “Are you sure this is an assassin bug?”

I had no idea what an assassin bug was, but the name is sure catchy, you have to admit.

Kissing bug? Yes, I’d heard about that, and it is a cute little name. Could it possibly refer to the same bug?

I started my typical research project, and I can tell you my hair started to stand on end as I read more details in different articles.

Leon's photo of a western corsair assassinating a bee.

Leon’s photo of a western corsair assassinating a bee.

You thought your backyard was a bucolic oasis with butterflies and birds fluttering around, all nice and pretty and living in harmony? I do not think so. It is a battleground where all species are trying to survive – and for humans, some knowledge of what is going on might be warranted.

Let’s get a few things out of the way: There is indeed a pretty and colorful insect called the western corsair. (I just imagine the fun some scientist had in finding those names.) It has an orange spot on each wing and a black and orange body.

You should not be concerned about this one, because as Leon’s photo shows so well, it feeds on insects.

If you really insist and want to handle it, be aware that it still can inflict a very painful bite. Its shape is similar to the assassin bug, if not its color, but it is a pirate – no, sorry, a western corsair (Rasahus thoracicus).

Now let’s tackle the gory details of the assassin bug, also called the kissing bug or conenose bug. I will try to be gentle and explain one horrible detail at a time.

An actual assassin bug prepares for a meal.

An engorged assassin bug has just finished dining.

Assassin bugs needs blood. They will get it from wild or domestic animals – or humans. Often, the eggs are laid in a rodent nest. Rat and packrat nests are frequently used, but they can also use squirrel nests, opossum and bats. When the eggs hatch, the animals living in the next provide a local, fresh supply of blood for the immature bugs to feed on and grow.

Assassin bugs go through five nymphal stages, but at each stage they need a good meal of fresh blood to advance to the next stage. They can gorge themselves with five times their weight in blood once or twice a week.

Going through those five stages takes about one year. They become adults during the warm summer months and are very active in the evening when they are looking for prey. They are not vampires, but they need fresh blood; this is what they eat. Although this is a bit gory, I guess they, too, need a chance to survive.

Where do they find this blood? Well, it can be by sucking the blood from your dog if it is lying outside, so you should check its bedding carefully. What about your chicken coop? They do attack birds and reptiles outside. But how do they attack people?

They are attracted by the lights outside next to your door. When you open the door, they can come inside, too. There they will wait until you are in bed, and then they will attack, biting the soft tissues around the mouth (hence the name kissing bug) or the eyes.

assassin1You won’t feel anything at first because the bug injects an anesthetic. The bite gets itchy only later. But welts will develop, and you certainly won’t enjoy the itchiness.

It does not last more than one or two days, and the first bite might not cause a problem. The second bite is more dangerous because some people can develop an anaphylactic reaction, and the use of an epi-pen might be needed. That could develop into an emergency situation, so do be aware of the danger.

It gets even better. If you scratch those welts and you live in Southern California, Texas or Tennessee, you could be exposed to a rare disease called Chagas. This is rare, so no need to panic, but while I’m telling all of the horrible details, we might as well tackle this one.

Chagas is found mostly in South America, but it is a disease difficult to diagnose and treat, and it can be fatal. If the excreted feces from the assassin bug are scratched into the bite or transferred to mucous membranes, you could end up with this disease.

Consequently, the bite should always washed with soap and water as prevention; disinfected; and – please do not put your fingers in your mouth or rub your eyes.

But how do you know if you have been bitten by an assassin bug? After all, the bite does resemble a spider bite.

If you have been bitten at night in your bed and the bite happened in the late spring or summer, you might have been bitten by an assassin bug. Maybe you rolled over and killed your assassin? If so, wash your bed linen, but keep the cadaver. If you develop a strong reaction, go to the doctor or hospital, and take the body with you. Inspect your mattress, as the assassin bug can lay its eggs there.

What does this assassin look like?

It is black or brown, about half an inch long, with a pointy cone head and four-segmented antennae. Its wings are folded on its back. The nymph is smaller and does not yet have wings.

How does it draw the blood? It has a tubular mouthpart with a stylet. The stylet is used to pierce the skin and suck the blood from the victim.

Where are they found? Foothills, deserts, Central Valley … they are here.

How do you prevent them from coming into your home? Check your garage and your attic, and make sure no rodents or rodent nests are there. If you find one, get rid of it, but also make sure no insects are left behind.

Cut branches that give access to your roof. Get rid of wood piles. Inspect under your flower pots. Screen your windows, your chimney and your outdoor vents. Make sure your pet door is insect-proof. Use some caulking to seal any little openings next to your windows and doors. Inspect your bed before you go to sleep. Your bedframe should not touch the wall, your bedding should not touch the floor, and if you want to be extra careful, you can wrap the feet of your bed with double-sided sticky tape.

Those last recommendations read on the Internet have me scratching my head in total confusion. This insect has wings thus can fly, but after more reading, it seems they are not the best flyers.

Because assassin bugs are attracted by light, you can change your porch lights to yellow light bulbs. If none of this lets you sleep in peace, you can always move to where the assassins don’t live – or more sensibly, call a pest control company for help.

I do not think the situation is that drastic in suburban Santa Clarita, but every time I disregard a possibility, I get photos from friends with a scorpion or tarantula in their garage.

It takes only one assassin bug really to spoil a good night’s sleep, so it might be important to recognize them … and they are not bed bugs. That could be a whole new article to write, once I stop feeling so itchy.



Evelyne Vandersande has been a docent at the Placerita Canyon Nature Center for 28 years. She lives in Newhall.



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  1. This is the bug that sent my son to the ER last week !!!

  2. Assassins Bug. Click to read the whole article.

  3. Andi Silva bug your sister was talking about

  4. Elizabeth Rose Arambula ?

  5. Debi Harvey Debi Harvey says:

    My son has been bit twice over two years. We finally caught the bug and figured it out. The second time he almost needed to go to emergency. We called an exterminator and they said they’re not in this area. Right!!!

  6. Connie Ojeda Connie Ojeda says:

    DawnDe Montegna read this

  7. I am highly allergic to this kissing bug creature! I had 2-3 emergency 911 episodes when I lived in the high desert!! I also came across an article which might be of interest to the author of the SCV article…..it was entitled How did Alex Mentry die? By John Boston. He reportedly died from a kissing bug!!! Google it – there are a few articles about it.

    • Evelyne Vandersande says:

      Thank you Gay, I read the article and it was very interesting. There was also a witness who saw the bugs. The death certificater said “Death by thyphoid fever” but we have our doubts!

  8. Patti Lay Patti Lay says:

    Any thing that bites leaves me with a huge welt….the enemy right now is fleas. Mosquitos are the worst for me……am a diabetic on insulin and at least 10 other meds for various issues including cancer…turned me into a bug magnet !!!!!

  9. Sol says:

    My mom had been bitten by this assassin bug in Brazil (we are Brazilians) when she was a teenager. Chagas disease has caused damage to my mom’s heart. Her heart grew so much that it was making her having problems to breath normally. This disease was a nightmare in her life. She has died from a heart attack. I didn’t know this bug was also here.

  10. C. Harris says:

    Evelyne Vandersande:

    Well done!
    Thank you for telling/warning the people living in Santa Clarita about this “kissing”/”assassin beetle”
    They can be deadly.
    They live where rat, squirrel, raccoon, mice, and rabbit live, any and every where. Those of us who have been unlucky to have been bitten may have a violent reaction. Go to ER right away as you can die from the bite. Your throat could close and you could stop breathing.
    And YES they do fly and are drawn to the light so having a “clean” house does not keep them out. They want blood, yours or a rodent.
    If a pest control person tells you they do not live here FIND someone else to come search out ALL rodent living spaces. Carol Lagasse who lived at the oil town of Mentryville agrees that Alex Mentry did die from a bite of the Assassin Beetle. This and the threat of West Nile could make a person want to stay inside with the doors locked. Just be careful out there.

    • SCVNews.com says:

      Next thing you know, people will be saying they didn’t know this was a desert when they moved here and they thought there was supposed to be water. :)

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