Kissing Bugs VS Stink Bugs: What’s The Difference?
Kissing bugs and stink bugs are often mistaken for one another due to their similar size and appearance, but in reality they are very different pests. They both come with their own set of hazards, and to be prepared for those hazards you must first know which pest you have on your property. Read on to learn exactly how to differentiate between kissing bugs and stink bugs.
What Is a Kissing Bug?
Kissing bugs are insects that belong to the family of Reduviidae, which are also known as assassin bugs. They are most common in the southern United States, Central America, and South America. In more recent years, they have been migrating north and have established populations in states like New Jersey.
Their bodies are somewhat flat and they are oval and elongated in shape. They typically grow to be between ½ and 1 inch long and they have a pair of thin antennae. They are light brown or black in color and some species have red, tan, or yellow markings on their abdomens and along their wings. Only adult kissing bugs have wings, and they have two pairs.
Kissing bugs are biting insects and as such they have piercing-sucking mouthparts. A kissing bug’s mouthpart looks like a black needle attached to its head. While feeding, the needle-like mouthpart is curved downward to pierce the host. While at rest, the mouthpart is straight and tucked away under the bug’s body.
What Is a Stink Bug?
Stink bugs are invasive, shield-shaped insects that emit a foul odor when threatened or squished. They are native to Asia and did not arrive in America until the 1990’s. There are more than 20 stink bug species in New Jersey alone.
All stink bugs have a shield-shaped body, though some are more round than others. They typically grow to be between ⅓ and ¾ of an inch long and they have a pair of segmented antennae. Stink bugs vary greatly in color depending on their species, but most commonly they are brown, green, or grayish. Like kissing bugs, adult stink bugs have two pairs of wings and a piercing-sucking mouthpart. Unlike kissing bugs, stink bugs do not bite humans or animals. Instead, they use their mouthparts to suck the fluids out of plants and trees. In some cases, they suck out the insides of other insects.
What Is the Difference?
Though similar in a number of ways, kissing bugs and stink bugs are actually quite different. Let’s look more closely at what separates the two insects.
The body of a kissing bug is oval and elongated, while that of a stink bug is shield-shaped. Kissing bugs, which measure between ½ and 1 inch long, are generally larger than stink bugs, which measure between ⅓ and ¾ inch long. All of the kissing bug species found in the United States are dark brown or black in color with red, tan or yellow markings around the edges of their bodies and wings. Stink bugs are usually brown, green, or grayish in color. Depending on species, stink bugs may have a variety of different markings including mottling, spots, and a keyhole shape.
One of the most prominent behavioral differences between these two insects lies in their feeding habits. Kissing bugs feed on the blood of humans, pets, and wild animals, while stink bugs feed on the juices inside plants, fruits, trees, and sometimes other insects.
Kissing bugs are nocturnal and they are most active from May to July. In addition, they do not usually infest buildings. Stink bugs, on the other hand, are active during the day and most certainly infest buildings. Stink bug season spans from March to September, but infestations most often occur during the fall when stink bugs are looking for a warm place to spend the winter.
During all stages of life, kissing bugs feed on the blood of humans, pets, and wildlife. Their bites leave small itchy welts that resemble hives. Kissing bug bites are not particularly distinguishable from other bug bites other than the fact that they often show up in clusters, usually around the mouth or face. Their bites can cause secondary infections and allergic reactions in some people. Kissing bugs are considered an important public health pest in many areas due to the fact that roughly 50% of kissing bugs are infected with the parasite that causes Chagas disease, also known as kissing bug disease. Chagas disease can infect both humans and pets, and unlike diseases from other biting insects, it is not transmitted through the bug’s saliva. The parasite that causes Chagas disease resides in the feces of the kissing bug. After feeding, kissing bugs defecate on their host. The feces may then come into contact with the eyes, mouth, or any open wound, particularly one caused by scratching the kissing bug bite. A pet that eats an infected kissing bug can contract the parasite through their digestive system. Symptoms of Chagas disease include fever, fatigue, body aches, headaches, rash, loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, enlarged glands, and sometimes, a sore or swelling at the site of the bite.
Stink bugs are not particularly dangerous since they do not bite and are not known to spread any diseases. They give off allergens that may cause reactions in some people and they can cause vomiting and diarrhea in pets that eat them, but the only significant danger they pose is to plants and trees. Stink bugs are significant agricultural pests and their feeding habits can destroy gardens and crops. Plants affected by stink bugs may wilt, become misshapen, or die. That being said, there are a few stink bug species that are agriculturally beneficial and feed on other agricultural pests.
Outdoors, kissing bugs and stink bugs hide in similar spots. They both prefer dark, dry, protected crevices like those found beneath peeling bark, between rocks, and in firewood, debris, or leaf piles. Kissing bugs can also be found in animal or rodent burrows, chicken coops, and pet houses or kennels. Stink bugs often congregate on sunny buildings and tend to crowd around doors and windows.
Indoors, kissing bugs will hide in cracks in the walls, floor, or furniture. In order to be close to their hosts, they may also hide under mattresses or pet beds, or beneath nearby furniture. A few of the stink bug’s favorite indoor hiding spots include crawlspaces, basements, attics, room corners, and sunny walls.
Both insects can be found in countries around the world. In the U.S., stink bugs are found in almost every state while kissing bugs are not present in any northern states. According to the CDC, kissing bugs can be found in the 31 states that make up the lower portion of the U.S.
What Attracts Them
Similar to other blood-sucking insects, kissing bugs can sense and are attracted to a host’s breathing, perspiration, and body odors. Less menacingly, stink bugs are attracted to fruits, vegetables, plants, trees, crops, and warm buildings. Some species are attracted by other insects, like caterpillars. Both kissing bugs and stink bugs are attracted to light sources.
How To Prevent Kissing Bugs and Stink Bugs
Despite their differences, kissing bugs and stink bugs can both be prevented using the following precautions:
- Seal all possible entrances including cracks in walls and foundations, as well as gaps around windows, doors, utility wire entrances, and ventilation systems. Install chimney covers, replace torn weather stripping, and replace or patch torn window and door screens.
- Remove outdoor debris and leaf piles, keep vegetation trimmed, and keep firewood piles at least 20 feet from the outside of your home or business.
- Turn off outdoor lights at night and close window blinds to keep indoor light from seeping out. For necessary outdoor lights, try yellow bulbs instead of white.
- Utilize plants and smells that repel insects. To repel kissing bugs, use a strong essential oil like citronella, mint, or tea tree. To repel stink bugs, landscape with plants like catnip, lavender, marigold, thyme, and garlic.
- Minimize excess moisture by promptly fixing leaks and clogs and properly ventilating damp areas.
- Check outdoor items like firewood and patio furniture for insects before bringing them indoors.
If you have encountered problems with either of these pests on your property, call Twin-Boro today. Using our Integrated Pest Management approach, we’ll take out any pest for good.