Members of the subfamily Triatominae, also named kissing bugs – due to their nocturnal feeding on the lips of sleeping humans – are of relevance for the transmission of the pathogenic agent of American trypanosomosis respectively Chagas disease, Trypanosoma cruzi

Photograph of adult kissing bug (Triatoma sanguisuga) 


Members of the heteropteran family Reduviidae are commonly called assassin bugs, because most species attack and feed on other insects. In the family Reduviidae there are 24 subfamilies, including the subfamily Triatominae (kissing bugs). This subfamily is currently divided into 5 tribes and 17 genera with at least 149 valid species. The term kissing bug is a colloquial term that refers to a variety of species in the Triatominae subfamily (triatomines) that commonly seek out uncovered host mucosal surfaces, and thus will frequently bite the face.  

All triatomines have the potential to transmit the pathogenic agent of Chagas disease, Trypanosoma cruzi. Of the currently known approximately 140 triatomine species, about half have been shown to be vectors, and fewer than two dozen are considered vectors of major epidemiological importance (Jurberg et al., 2005; Stevens et al., 2015). Those species which are most important as vectors of T. cruzi belong to the tribes Triatomini and Rhodniini (Vallejo et al., 2009). 

Classification of kissing bugs

Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Hemiptera (true bugs)
Suborder: Heteroptera (true bugs)
Family: Reduviidae (assassin bugs)
Subfamily: Triatominae (kissing bugs)
Genus: e.g., Triatoma, Rhodnius



Most species of the Triatominae are known only from the New World, six species are found only in India, and seven species occur in southern and Southeast Asia and northern Australia. There is only one species found in Africa; it is found throughout the tropics, presumably having spread worldwide via ships (Krinsky, 2019).

The New World triatomine species occur from just south of the Great Lakes region of the United States to southern Argentina, with all but a few species concentrated in subtropical and tropical regions (Krinsky, 2019)


Kissing bugs can be divided into three general habitat groups: sylvatic, peridomestic, and domestic.

Sylvatic forms inhabit nests, burrows and natural hiding places. Peridomestic forms utilise domestic animals as hosts by living in chicken coops, stables, corrals, as well as rabbit and guinea pig houses. The domestic (domiciliary) species colonise human habitations, where they depend on human or domestic animal blood as food source.

The capacity of a given triatomine species to function as a vector for the pathogenic agent of Chagas disease, Trypanosoma cruzi, largely depends on its degree of association with the host (here especially humans). The majority of triatomine species are sylvatic, transmitting T. cruzi to mammalian hosts associated with that sylvatic habitat. However, at least 10 species of the subfamily Triatominae appear to have strictly domestic populations in specific Latin American regions, while over 20 species are described as secondary vectors because they often invade the houses from the peridomestic habitats (Vallejo et al., 2009). Thus, depending on the type of habitat (sylvatic, peridomestic, domestic) wild or domestic animals as well as humans are frequented for blood feeding.

Some 150 mammal species are susceptible to T. cruzi, with possible high prevalences in dogs, cats, rodents, and both domestic and wild lagomorphs, constituting an important reservoir for human infection.

A high number of triatomine species contributes to the maintaining transmission T. cruzi among mammals (sometimes including humans) in almost every terrestrial ecoregion of the Americas (Monteiro et al., 2018).



Jurberg J, Galvão C, Weirauch C, et al.: Hematophagous bugs (Reduviidae, Triatominae). In: Panizzi AR, Grazia J (eds.): True bugs (Heteroptera) of the Neotropics. 2015, Springer, Dordrecht, The Netherlands, pp. 353-93

Stevens L, Monroy MC, Rodas AG, et al.: Migration and gene flow among domestic populations of the Chagas insect vector Triatoma dimidiata (Heteroptera: Reduviidae) detected by microsatellite loci. J Med Entomol. 2015, 52, 419-28

Vallejo GA, Guhl F, Schaub GA: Triatominae – Trypanosoma cruzi/T. rangeli: Vector-parasite interactions. Acta Trop. 2009, 110, 137-47


Krinsky WL: Chapter 8: True Bugs (Hemiptera). In: Mullen GR, Durden LA (eds.): Medical and Veterinary Entomology. 3rd edn., 2019, Academic Press, Elsevier Inc., London, pp. 107-27


Monteiro FA, Weirauch C, Felix M, Lazoski C, Abad-Franch F. Evolution, Systematics, and Biogeography of the Triatominae, Vectors of Chagas Disease. Adv Parasitol. 2018, 99, 265-344

Vallejo GA, Guhl F, Schaub GA: Triatominae – Trypanosoma cruzi/T. rangeli: Vector-parasite interactions. Acta Trop. 2009, 110, 137-47



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