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Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Hemiptera
Family: Reduviidae
Subfamily: Triatominae
Jeannel, 1919

The members of Triatominae /tr.əˈtɒmɪn/, a subfamily of Reduviidae, are also known as conenose bugs, kissing bugs (so called from their habit of feeding on the lips of human victims),[1] assassin bugs, or vampire bugs. Other local names for them used in the Latin Americas include barbeiros, vinchucas, pitos and chinches. Most of the 130 or more species of this subfamily are haematophagous, i.e. feeds on vertebrate blood; a very few species feed on other invertebrates (Sandoval et al. 2000, 2004). They are mainly found and widespread in the Americas, with a few species present in Asia, Africa, and Australia. These bugs usually share shelter with nesting vertebrates, from which they suck blood. In areas where Chagas disease occurs (from the southern United States to northern Argentina), all triatomine species are potential vectors of the Chagas disease parasite Trypanosoma cruzi, but only those species (such as Triatoma infestans and Rhodnius prolixus) that are well adapted to living with humans are considered important vectors. Proteins released from their bites have been known to induce anaphylaxis in sensitive and sensitized individuals.[2][3]


At the beginning of the 19th century Charles Darwin made one of the first reports of the existence of triatomines in America in his Journal and Remarks, published in 1839 and commonly known as The Voyage of the Beagle. The following is an extract which he based on his journal entry dated 26 March 1835:[4]:315

We crossed the Luxan, which is a river of considerable size, though its course towards the sea-coast is very imperfectly known. It is even doubtful whether, in passing over the plains, it is evaporated, or whether it forms a tributary of the Sauce or Colorado. We slept in the village, which is a small place surrounded by gardens, and forms the most southern part, that is cultivated, of the province of Mendoza; it is five leagues south of the capital. At night I experienced an attack (for it deserves no less a name) of the Benchuca (a species of Reduvius) the great black bug of the Pampas. It is most disgusting to feel soft wingless insects, about an inch long, crawling over one's body. Before sucking they are quite thin, but afterwards they become round and bloated with blood, and in this state are easily crushed. They are also found in the northern parts of Chile and in Peru. One which I caught at Iquique, was very empty. When placed on the table, and though surrounded by people, if a finger was presented, the bold insect would immediately draw its sucker, make a charge, and if allowed, draw blood. No pain was caused by the wound. It was curious to watch its body during the act of sucking, as it changed in less than ten minutes, from being as flat as a wafer to a globular form. This one feast, for which the benchuca was indebted to one of the officers, kept it fat during four whole months; but, after the first fortnight, the insect was quite ready to have another suck.[4]:315

Note: Luxan is a reference to the town/district of Luján de Cuyo, though there is no longer a river named after the town in its vicinity (the only Luján River in present-day Argentina empties into the Rio de la Plata and is basically a minor branch of the Rio Parana); the Benchuca is identified by Richard Keynes as Triatoma infestans which is commonly called the "Vinchuca" bug.[4]

There has been considerable medical speculation as to whether or not Darwin's contact with triatomines in Argentina was related to his later bouts of long term illness, though it is unlikely to have been caused on this specific occasion as he made no mention of the fever that usually follows the first infection.[4]

Discovery of triatominae's relation with Chagas disease[edit]

In 1909 the Brazilian doctor Carlos Chagas discovered that these insects were responsible for the transmission of T. cruzi to many of his patients in Lassance, a village located on the banks of the São Francisco River in Minas Gerais (Brazil). Poor people living there complained of some insects they called barbeiros that bite during the night. Carlos Chagas put his first observations in words:

Knowing the domiciliary habits of the insect, and its abundance in all the human habitations of the region, we immediately stayed on, interested in finding out the exact biology of the barbeiro, and the transmission of some parasite to man or to another vertebrate".

Another Brazilian, Herman Lent, former student of Carlos Chagas, became devoted to the research of the triatomines and together with Peter Wygodzinsky made a revision of the Triatominae, a summary of 40 years of studies on the triatomines up to 1989.[5]

Biological aspects[edit]

Rhodnius prolixus nymphs and adult

Life cycle[edit]

Triatomines undergo incomplete metamorphosis. A wingless first instar nymph hatches from an egg, and may be small as 2mm. It passes successively through 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th instars. Finally, the fifth instar turns into an adult, acquiring two pairs of wings.[6]


All triatomine nymph instars and adults are haematophagous and require the stability of a sheltered environment where they aggregate. Most species are associated with wild nesting vertebrates and are named "sylvatic" triatomines. These live in ground burrows with rodents or armadillos,[7] or in tree-dwellings with bats, birds, sloths, or opossums. Few species (5%) live in human dwellings or in the surroundings of human houses (peridomicile) in the shelters of domestic animals, these are named "domestic" species. Many sylvatic species are in process of domiciliation (i.e. "semidomestic").


Most triatomines aggregate in refuges during day and search for blood during night when the host is asleep and the air is cooler. Odors as well as heat guide these insects to the host. Carbon dioxide emanating from breath, as well as ammonia, short chain amines and carboxylic acids from skin, hair, and exocrine glands from vertebrate animals, are among the volatiles that attract triatomines. Vision also serves triatomines for orientation. During night, adults of diverse species fly to houses attracted by light.

Adults produce a pungent odor (isobutyric acid) when disturbed, and are also capable of producing a particular sound by rubbing the rostrum over a stridulatory sulcus under its head (stridulation).


Domestic and sylvatic species can carry the Chagas parasite to humans and wild mammals; birds are immune to the parasite. T. cruzi transmission is carried mainly from human to human by domestic kissing bugs; from the vertebrate to the bug by blood, and from the bug to the vertebrate by the insect's feces, and not by its saliva as occurs in most bloodsucking arthropod vectors such as Malaria mosquitoes.

Triatomine infestation especially affects older dwellings. One can recognize the presence of triatomines in a house by its feces, exuviae, eggs, and individuals themselves. Triatomines characteristically leave 2 kinds of feces like strikes on walls of infected houses; one is white with uric acid, the other is dark (black) containing heme. Whitish or pinkish eggs can be seen in wall crevices. After having had a blood meal the insects sometimes show a limited mobility and can be identified easily.

Controlling triatomine infestations[edit]

Insecticide treatment[edit]

Synthetic pyrethroids are the main class of insecticides used to control triatominae infestations. Insecticide treatment is more effective on non-porous surfaces, such as hardwood timber, fired bricks and plastered walls, than on porous surfaces such as mud. A single treatment with insecticide will typically protect against triatomine infestation for a year or more on timber walls vs 2-3 months on adobe walls. Wettable powders, suspension concentrates and insecticide paints can improve treatment effectiveness on porous surfaces.

Rates of insecticide resistance among triatominae are fairly low due to their long life cycle and low genetic variability, but there are some reports of resistance, particularly among Triatoma infestans populations in Bolivia and Argentina. [8]

Tribes, genera and numbers of described species[edit]

The monophyletic nature of the Triatominae subfamily is strongly supported by molecular data, indicating that their blood-sucking character has occurred only this once within the Reduviidae.[9]

Note: For a complete list of species see A checklist of the current valid species of the subfamily Triatominae Jeannel, 1919 (Hemiptera, Reduviidae) and their geographical distribution, with nomenclatural and taxonomic notes[10]

Most important vectors[edit]

All 138 Triatominae species are potentially able to transmit T. cruzi to humans but the following five species are the most epidemiologically important vectors of Chagas disease.


  1. ^
  2. ^ The EAACI Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Guidelines Group (August 2014). "Anaphylaxis: guidelines from the European Academy of Allergy and Clinical Immunology". Allergy. 69 (8): 1026–45. doi:10.1111/all.12437. PMID 24909803. 
  3. ^ Klotz, JH; Dorn, PL; Logan, JL; Stevens, L; Pinnas, JL; Schmidt, JO; Klotz, SA (Jun 15, 2010). ""Kissing bugs": potential disease vectors and cause of anaphylaxis". Clinical Infectious Diseases. 50 (12): 1629–34. doi:10.1086/652769. PMID 20462351. 
  4. ^ a b c d Keynes, Richard Darwin (1988). Charles Darwin's Beagle Diary. Cambridge, UK: The press syndicate of the University of Cambridge. ISBN 0 521 23503 0. Retrieved 9 December 2015. 
  5. ^ "Revision of the Triatominae (Hemiptera, Reduviidae), and their significance as vectors of Chagas' disease. Bulletin of the AMNH ; v. 163, article 3". 
  6. ^ "Global Health - Division of Parasitic Diseases and Malaria". Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved 9 December 2015. 
  7. ^ Rozendaal, Jan A. (1997). Vector control: Methods for use by individuals and communities. World Health Organization. p. 215. ISBN 92 4 154 494 5. Retrieved 9 December 2015. 
  8. ^ *History of insecticide resistance of Triatominae vectors, 48, Revista da Sociedade Brasileira de Medicina Tropical, 2015 
  9. ^ Weirauch, Christiane & Munro, James B. (2009). "Molecular phylogeny of the assassin bugs (Hemiptera: Reduviidae), based on mitochondrial and nuclear ribosomal genes" (PDF). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 53 (1): 287–299. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2009.05.039. PMID 19531379. 
  10. ^ Galvao, Cleber (2003-05-30). "A checklist of the current valid species of the subfamily Triatominae Jeannel, 1919 (Hemiptera, Reduviidae) and their geographical distribution, with nomenclatural and taxonomic notes" (pdf). Zootaxa. Magnolia Press. 202 (1-36): 4. ISSN 1175-5334. Retrieved December 9, 2015. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Dujardin JP, Schofield CJ, Panzera F (2000) "Les vecteurs de la maladie de Chagas: recherches taxonomiques, biologiques et génétiques". Academie Royale des Sciences d'Ultre-Mer. Belgium.
  • ECLAT = European Community Latin American Network for Research on the Biology and Control of Triatominae
  • Lent, H; Wygodzinsky, P (1979). "Revision of the Triatominae (Hemiptera, Reduviidae), and their significance as vectors of Chagas disease". Bull Am Mus Nat Hist. 163: 123–520. 
  • Maldonado-Capriles, Jenaro (1990) "Systematic Catalogue of the Reduviidae of the World". Special Edition of the Caribbean Journal of Science. University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez, Puerto Rico. 694 pp.
  • Otálora-Luna F (2006) Chemosensory and behavioural adaptations for haematophagy in triatomine bugs (Heteroptera: Reduviidae). Université de Neuchâtel. Available from World Wide Web
  • Rodrigues Coura J (2001) "In Honor to Herman Lent’s 90 Years and to his Major Contributions to the Memórias do Instituto Oswaldo Cruz". Mem Inst Oswaldo Cruz 96:1029-1032 Available from World Wide Web
  • Sandoval CM, Duarte R, Gutiérrez R, Rocha DS, Angulo VM, Esteban L, Reyes M, Jurberg J, Galvão C (2004) Feeding sources and natural infection of Belminus herreri (Hemiptera, Reduviidae, Triatominae) from dwellings in Cesar, Colombia. Mem Inst Oswaldo Cruz 99(2):137-140 Available from World Wide Web
  • Sandoval CM, Joya M, Gutiérrez M, Angulo VM (2000) Cleptohaematophagy of the Triatominae bug Belminus herreri. Med Vet Entomol 14(1):100-101
  • Schofield CJ (1994) Triatominae: biology & control. Eurocommunica Publications. West Sussex. UK 80 pp.
  • Schofield CJ (2000) "Biosystematics and evolution of the Triatominae". Cad. Saúde Pública. [online]. vol.16 suppl.2 [cited 6 May 2005], p. 89-92. ISSN 0102-311X. Available from World Wide Web.
  • Zeledón R (1981) El Triatoma dimidiata (Latreille, 1811) y su relación con la enfermedad de Chagas. Editorial Universidad Estatal a Distancia. Costa Rica
  • Zeledón R, Rabinovich (1981) "Chagas' disease: an ecological appraisal with special emphasis on its insect vectors". Annu Rev Entomol 26:101-33 Available from World Wide Web

External links[edit]