Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Chagas Disease and Kissing Bugs

Chagas Disease has made the new lately due to two confirmed cases in San Antonio, and it has some people on edge.  The good thing about the news story is that it has made many people aware of the Kissing Bug (AKA: Conenose Bug, Reduvid Bug, Triatoma).

Kissing bugs are vectors for the disease, Chagas.  This is most common in Latin America, but cases are popping up Texas.  Kissing bugs are pear shaped bugs, with a long (cone shaped) nose or head.  A key characteristic of them is an orange checkered pattern along the edge of their abdomen.  The overall color is brownish grey.  They can commonly be mistaken for squash bugs or leaf footed bugs, but those insects lack the checkered pattern and are mainly found in the garden or on plants.

Kissing bugs feed on vertebrates and prefer rodents.  However, they common feed on dogs and Chagas is known to occur fairly regularly in dog populations throughout Texas.  My personal opinion is that places with many dogs living outdoors have dog food, which attracts rodents, which start to nest near the dogs and the Kissing Bugs follow.

Chagas disease is caused by protozoan parasite, Trypanosoma cruzi, which is introduced into the host by the bite of a Kissing Bug.  Kissing bugs feed at night, and people may not notice the bite except for an itchy or sore red mark.  Chagas disease has two phases: an acute and a chronic.  The acute phase symptoms can go undetected as Chagas as the symptoms are fever and feeling generally unwell.  It can also include swelling of one eye (where the Kissing Bug fed near) or a swollen area the bite location.  The chronic phase may not appear for a long period of time and includes enlarged heart, irregular and/or rapid heartbeat, enlarged lymp nodes, liver and spleen.  There are blood tests to test for the presence of the protozoan in the blood.

If you notice Kissing Bugs outdoors, in your pool filter, or even indoors, there are ways to prevent their entrance indoors, where they can bite during the night.  Seal up all cracks, crevices and entry points.  Make sure doors close properly and weather stripping seals tight.  Repair window screens. Use a general insecticide (one that is labeled for cockroaches is good) along window sills, doors, and other suspected entry points.  If you suspect the infestation is pretty severe, contact a licensed pest management professional.

Friday, June 8, 2012

The Trees are Alive .... With Walkingsticks!

Texas giant walking sticks or are a staple in the Hill Country and areas of San Antonio outside of the north loop of 1604.  We definitely see them in the city, especially if you have large trees, but they grow them big a little farther north!  Walking sticks tend to by cyclical in their outbreaks or population bursts, and this is the year for them!
Photo: Male and femal walking sticks, Megaphasma dentricus (Stål)

There are several species of walking sticks - all can grow various sizes.  The largest species, (Megaphasma dentricus (Stål)), can grow up to 7 inches long (although there are many reports of larger ones) and are the longest insect in the United States!  This species is what many people are finding right now and pictured in this blog.

Walking sticks have a creepy appearance, simply because they are so slow moving.  They are not harmful and at the worst, may stick to your t-shirt, or emit a foul odor as defense.  Walking sticks cannot sting, do not bite, cannot fly, and are not very fast runners - so there is really nothing to fear from them.  They have chewing mouthparts, but even in massive outbreaks, do not defoliate trees.

Watch the oak trees closely and it may not be the wind moving the branches, it may actually be walking sticks rocking back and forth.