The Many Bed Bug Relatives

The common bed bug belongs to the relatively small genus Cimex in the order Hemiptera. Only around 90 insect species belonging to the Cimex genus have been documented worldwide, but the Hemiptera order is one of the most species-rich insect orders in the arthropod community. Insects belonging to the Hemiptera order are commonly referred to as “true bugs,” and somewhere between 50,000 and 80,000 true bug species have been documented worldwide. True bugs are characterized by their needle-like mouthparts that are designed for piercing tissue and sucking out internal fluids like a straw. Most true bugs use their mouthparts to pierce plant tissue for the purpose of sucking out various types of sweet-tasting sap, but some true bug species use their mouthparts for bloodsucking.

The most well known true bugs include cicadas, aphids, leafhoppers, and brown marmorated stink bugs. With the exception of the common bed bug, the most well known bloodsucking true bugs in the US include kissing bugs in the Triatoma genus, and other Cimex species like tropical bed bugs, chimney swifts, swallow bugs, and bat bugs. Several herbivore species of true bugs are known for biting humans when they become disturbed or are mishandled. These occasional biting, but non-bloodsucking true bug species include wheel bugs, minute pirate bugs, thrips, masked hunters, and assassin bugs. Bites inflicted by herbivore true bugs are extremely painful due to the relatively large size of their piercing mouthparts, and most bites occur when gardeners reach into dense vegetation and unknowingly disturb the insects.

Herbivore true bug bites are reportedly around ten times more painful than wasp stings, and the pain that results from these bites can last for days or weeks. In rare cases, herbivore true bug bites may also trigger serious allergic reactions, such as throat swelling that closes the airway, which requires the administration of epinephrine within a 15 minute time frame following the bite. Kissing bugs invade southern homes where they bite sleeping humans, sometimes resulting in the transmission of a parasite, T. cruzi, that causes chagas disease. Kissing bugs infect tens of thousand of people in South America with chagas disease annually, but the disease is quite rare in the US. However, the most recent case of chagas infection in the US occurred in Louisiana. Although bed bugs are considered the most pestiferous true bug pests, they are not known to transmit disease.


Have you ever woken up in the morning to find fresh bug bites on your skin?



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