The Bloodsucking Conenose

Triatoma sanguisuga, the eastern bloodsucking conenose

In Paraguay, where I lived for a time in the 1990s, one insect is feared more than any other: the Vinchuca, or bloodsucking conenose.

The bug itself isn’t the problem. It’s the pathogen it transmits while feeding. Trypanosoma cruzi is a horrific slow-acting protozoan that chews at the muscle fibers of your internal organs. It takes its time, though. 15 years later, your heart up and stops. Or more gruesome your bowels dialate, loosing their ability to move business along. Fecal matter piles up unvoided in the intestines and you perish bloated, painfully, with blood poisoning. This awful disease is called Chagas. It affects millions of people in rural Latin America.

I would frequently search for Triatoma in the cracks of the walls of my little Paraguayan campo house in the hopes of keeping my risk at a minimum. I never found any, thankfully, though I did see them in my area. This memory has burned itself deeply enough in my consciousness that I still respond viscerally to Triatoma, even a different species on a different continent.

The individual photographed above came to a blacklight at BugShot a couple weeks ago. Triatoma sanguisuga, the eastern bloodsucking conenose, is a strikingly colored bug. I jumped a little when seeing it.

Our native bugs have a key difference preventing Chagas outbreaks on our continent: they don’t defecate in the bite wound while feeding, which is how the trypanosome gets from the insect to the mammalian host. We’re safe because our bugs crap discretely. I guess that’s good. For us. Though I can’t help but feel our South American friends got a raw deal just because their local bugs have runny bowels.

11 thoughts on “The Bloodsucking Conenose”

  1. We have Chagas in southern Louisiana, it’s been here forever (well, decades at least, probably more) but has been maintained in local animal populations (dogs, mostly) with almost no human cases. More recently there have been several human cases in and around New Orleans. I was involved in collecting Triatoma sanguisuga from a site where a few humans got the disease, and 50% of the dozen or so bugs we caught that night tested positive for Chagas parasites! I’m sure that’s unusually high prevalence, but it was still a little alarming.

  2. It would be interesting to find out if Trypanosoma cruzi modifies the behavior of Triatoma to cause it to defecate in the bite wound while feeding.

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