Nature’s Vampires: 5 Blood Sucking Insects

What do kissing bugs, fleas, mosquitoes, and bed bugs have in common? They're blood-sucking insects who would love a little sip of yours.

Oct 25, 2023By Natasha Elder
blood sucking insects

Most insects eat plant matter like leaves, nectar, and pollen. Others eat fruit and fungi, while a few even eat other insects. And then you get the vampire insects. That's right, for a select scary bunch, blood is their primary source of nourishment. Here are five insects that suck (blood!)


mosquito biting skin close up
Image credit: Pexels

First up is the female mosquito, arguably the most visible of all the creatures on this list. There are over ten quintillion insects on Earth, and mosquitoes account for approximately 110 trillion of them. Mosquitoes are found all over the world, in all but one place -- it's not one of the animals you'll find in Antarctica.

This flying insect needs blood to lay her eggs and successfully reproduce. Her hosts include dogs, cats, horses, and humans. Her saliva is injected into the skin when she takes a bite. To her unsuspecting snack, this will feel like a quick sting. A few hours later, a small red bump will appear at the bite site -- along with a strong desire to scratch.

Mosquito bites are, frankly, irritating. But in reality, a bite from a mosquito is a bit more than a simple annoyance – it can be fatal. Mosquitoes carry several diseases and transmit them with their bites. Malaria, dengue, yellow fever, filariasis, and the Zika virus are just some of the serious illnesses that are spread by mosquitoes.

2.Kissing Bugs

kissing bug skin up close
Image credit: Flickr

When you hear the name "kissing bugs," you may conjure up an image of an adorable little bug with a big pouty mouth that goes around spreading the love. Despite its cute name, the kissing bug is no love bug -- it doesn't spread love, it spreads disease.

Kissing bugs need blood to stay alive. The blood of rats, raccoons, opossums, birds, cats, and dogs does the trick, but human blood is the kissing bug's preferred meal. Why is a kissing bug called a kissing bug? Because it tends to bite around its host’s mouth, like a little kiss. Lovely.

As if this grossness wasn’t bad enough, it gets worse. After drinking the blood of its host, the kissing bug poops at the bite site. That’s super gross, but why is it dangerous? Most of the time, a parasite called Trypanosoma cruzi, which causes a dangerous disease called Chagas disease, lives in this poop. When the host scratches the bite, this poop (and the parasite therein!) can get inside the wound or be spread around their mouth and eyes and ingested that way.


deer tick human hand
Image credit: Erik Karits on Unsplash

No list of vampiric creatures would be complete without a mandatory mention of the tick. You've probably had to remove a tick from your pet before, so you're likely familiar with how gross these bloodsuckers are.

There are more than 200 tick species in the U.S. alone, and all ticks drink blood at all stages of their life cycle. Ticks feed off one host for several days (up to 10!) until they cannot physically contain any more blood -- often expanding to up to three times their usual size.

The severity of the bite is determined by the type of tick. Normally, you won’t feel any pain, itchiness, swelling, or other symptoms if a regular brown dog tick bites you. If you have a tick bite allergy, you’ll experience all of these symptoms (plus a few more, like shortness of breath, a rash, and a burning sensation). Lyme disease, a bacterial infection that can cause serious health conditions (and often death if left untreated), is carried by black-legged ticks so a bite from one of those is a bit more serious.

4.Bed Bugs

bed bug arm up close blood sucker
Image credit: picryl

Now, let's look at the bed bug. As its name suggests, these small wingless insects tend to be found in the headboards and mattresses of – you guessed it – our beds. Most people believe that bed bugs feed off dead skin, but that’s not true. They feed off the blood of the person it's sharing a bed with.

Bed bugs specifically seek out human blood as opposed to the blood of other mammals. You won't feel a bed bug's bite, as it is painless, and they exclusively feed while their host is sleeping. Depending on how sensitive your skin is, you will start to experience the symptoms of the bite in a few minutes to days after you've been bitten.

bed bug on a host
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

In true vampire fashion, bed bugs will often feed off the same host for several weeks -- leaving behind rows or clusters of bite marks in their wake. Can you imagine having an insect feasting on your blood while you sleep? For WEEKS on end? There are many reasons why people are so scared of bugs, and this type of thing feeds that fear. On the plus side, as far as we know, bed bugs don’t carry any illnesses, so as long as you're not allergic to their saliva, they're more of a nuisance than a danger.

5.Sand Flies

sandfly feeding blood leishmaniasis
Image credit: BioMed Central

Last up is the sand fly. As you might have guessed, the sand fly is typically found in sandy areas -- but don't let the name fool you, as this is not the sand fly's only habitat. As well as eating plants and nectar, the female sand fly has developed a taste for animal and human blood.

While it's not one of the most painful insect bites possible, a sand fly bite is known to be quite painful and will leave behind a big red bump or blister. Often, these bumps and blisters will become irritated or infected.

Sand fly bites aren't just sore; they are dangerous. These blood suckers can transmit a parasitic disease called leishmaniasis and an infection known as Toscana virus. Both ailments often prove fatal to humans.

Natasha Elder
By Natasha Elder

Natasha is a mother, a wife, a writer, and a serial cat owner. Though she is currently in mourning, her heart not ready for another feline family member just yet, she has always lived life with four paws beside her. She loves – you guessed it – cats, as well as creatures of the fluffy, scaly, and finned variety. Natasha longs to meet Sir David Attenborough one day and is passionate about responsible pet ownership