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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 56.djvu/41

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33
SPIDER BITES AND KISSING BUGS.

(Rasatus thoracicus and R. biguttatus), both of which occur, however, most numerously in the South and West, and then spoke of Melanotestis picipes, a species which had been especially called to my attention by Mr. Frank M. Jones, of Wilmington, Del., who submitted the report of the attending physician in a case of two punctures by this insect inflicted upon the thumb and forefinger of a middle-aged man in Delaware. I further reported upon occasional somewhat severe results from the bites[1] of the old Reduvius personatus, now placed in the genus Opsicostes, and stated that a smaller species, Coriscus subcoleoptratus, had bitten me rather severely under circumstances similar to some of those which have given rise in the past to spider-bite stories. In the course of the discussion which followed the reading of this paper, Mr. Schwarz stated that twice during the present spring he had been bitten rather severely by Melanotestis picipes which had entered his room, probably attracted by light. He described it as the worst biter among heteropterous insects with which he had had any experience, and said he thought it was commoner than usual in Washington during the present year.

No account of this meeting was published, but within a few weeks thereafter several persons suffering from swollen faces visited the Emergency Hospital in Washington and complained that they had been bitten by some insect while asleep; that they did not see the insect, and could not describe it. This happened during one of the temporary periods when newspaper men are most actively engaged in hunting for items. There was a dearth of news. These swollen faces offered an opportunity for a good story, and thus began the "kissing-bug" scare which has grown to such extraordinary proportions. I have received the following letter and clipping from Mr. J. F. McElhone, of the Washington Post, in reply to a request for information regarding the origin of this curious epidemic:

"Washington, D. C, August 14, 1899.
 

"Dr. L. O. Howard, Cosmos Club., Washington, D. C.

"Dear Sir: Attached please find clipping from the Washington Post of June 20, 1899, being the first story that ever appeared in print, so far as I can learn, of the depredations of the Melanotestis picipes, better known now as the kissing bug. In my rounds as police reporter of the Post, I noticed, for two or three days before writing this story, that the register of the Emergency Hospital of this city contained unusually frequent notes of 'bug-bite'


  1. When the word "bite" is used in connection with these bugs, it must be remembered that it is really a puncture made with the sharp beak or proboscis (see illustration).