Mistaken kisses

That bug you encounter is not a kissing bug

Every year in late fall, people around Washington mistakenly report seeing the kissing bug — a blood-feeding, assassin bug that can transmit a parasitic infection. What they really see is the harmless, western conifer seed bug.

Here’s a quick breakdown of the difference between these look-alike bugs.

Kissing bugs do not live in Washington, but can be found in wooded areas in the southern U.S., Mexico, Central America, and South America. When they do end up indoors, warmth and carbon dioxide from a sleeping person can attract them. Consequently, bites tend to be on the soft skin of the face, leading to the nickname “kissing bugs”.

Chagas disease can be spread to humans through the bite of the kissing bug. Chagas disease is a parasitic infection that can lurk in the body leading to heart and organ damage.

Western conifer seed bugs, on the other hand, do not transmit diseases. They are commonly found in Washington and often — in the fall — inside your house. While they are nearly an inch long and might be considered kind of creepy by some people, these insects are merely trying to find a comfortable place to shelter for the winter. We recommend gently relocating them back outside.

Thanks to PJ Liesch, the Wisconsin Bug Guy, for providing the custom side-by-side bug comparison. If you’re interested in bugs, you might enjoy his blog. For information about Washington-related pests, visit the DOH website.

Author: Dr. Liz Dykstra is the public health entomologist at the Washington State Department of Health.

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