Gut content screening of Chagas disease vectors reveals new vertebrate host associations

Monday, April 4, 2016: 1:30 PM
Neptune Room (Pacific Beach Hotel)
Anna Georgieva , Entomology Dept., University of California Riverside, Riverside, CA
Eric Gordon , Entomology, University of California, Riverside, CA
Christiane Weirauch , Entomology Department, University of California, Riverside, CA
Triatominae, or kissing bugs, are blood-feeding members of the otherwise predatory insect family Reduviidae (Order Hemiptera). Triatominae (147 spp.) are vectors of Trypanosoma cruzi, the parasite responsible for Chagas disease that affects 8 million people, mostly in Latin America. Several species of Triatominae are documented to feed on only one or a small number of vertebrate species, but most are either known or suspected to use a wide range of blood hosts. Sylvatic host species are an important factor in the epidemiology of Chagas disease. To contribute to the growing database of reliably identified vertebrate hosts used by different kissing bugs species, we here determine the host associations of a variety of species of Triatominae, collected mostly using light traps and in sylvatic environments across the New World. Using vertebrate-specific barcode primers on gut contents, we screened 69 specimens (40 males, 29 females) representing over 20 species, while also testing for T. cruzi. Our results yielded previously undocumented host associations for multiple species consisting primarily of arboreal mammals (e.g., Coatimundis, platyrrhine monkeys, arboreal porcupines), demonstrating the utility of PCR-based methods for understanding kissing bug biology and host reservoirs. Screening for T. cruzi revealed that >30% of the specimens collected were infected with this disease-causing protozoan.