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Submitted by on Oct 3, 2021

The Triatominae, a subfamily of the Reduviidae, are sometimes known as conenose bugs, kissing bugs, or vampire bugs (because to their propensity of eating from around people’s lips). Barbeiros, vinchucas, pitos, chipos, and chinches are some of the other Latin American names for them.

The majority of this subfamily’s 130 or so species feed on vertebrate blood, with only a few species feeding on invertebrates. They are mostly found in the Americas and are ubiquitous there, with a few species in AsiaAfrica, and Australia. These bugs generally live in colonies alongside nesting vertebrates, sucking blood from them. All triatomine species are potential vectors of the Chagas disease parasite Trypanosoma cruzi in areas where Chagas disease occurs (from the southern United States to northern Argentina), but only those species (such as Triatoma infestans and Rhodnius prolixus) that are well adapted to living with humans are considered important vectors. Proteins produced from their bites have also been reported to cause anaphylaxis in those who are allergic to them.

In his Journal and Remarks, published in 1839 and popularly known as The Voyage of the Beagle, Charles Darwin provided one of the earliest accounts of the occurrence of triatomines in America around the turn of the nineteenth century. The following is an excerpt from his diary entry dated March 26, 1835::315

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We passed the Luxan, a large river whose route towards the sea is only partially understood. It’s even debatable if it evaporates as it passes through the plains or becomes a tributary of the Sauce or Colorado. We slept in the hamlet, which is a tiny town surrounded by gardens and comprises the province of Mendoza’s most southern, agricultural section; it is five leagues south of the city. At night, I was attacked by the Benchuca (a kind of Reduvius), the huge black insect of the Pampas. Feeling soft, wingless insects, approximately an inch long, creep over one’s body is revolting. They are fairly thin before sucking, but after swallowing, they grow round and swollen with blood, and are readily crushed in this form. They can also be found in Peru and Chile’s northern regions.

One one I captured at Iquique was almost completely devoid of fish. If a finger was offered to the courageous bug on the table, even though it was surrounded by humans, it would instantly draw its sucker, charge, and, if permitted, draw blood. The wound did not cause any discomfort. It was fascinating to observe its body during the sucking process, as it went from being as flat as a wafer to a globular form in less than 10 minutes. The benchuca was obliged to one of the officers for this one feast, which kept it fat for four months; nonetheless, after the first fortnight, the bug was ready for another suck.

There has been a lot of medical discussion about whether Darwin’s encounter with triatomines in Argentina was linked to his subsequent episodes of long-term sickness, but it’s doubtful that it was caused on this particular occasion because he didn’t mention the fever that normally accompanies the initial infection.

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