Living Syringes: A Pilot Study Using Hematophagous Triatomine Insects (Triatoma dimidiata) for Blood Collection from Zoo Reptiles
American Association of Zoo Veterinarians Conference 2019
Ellie L. Milnes1,2,3, VetMB, DVSc; Pauline Delnatte1, DVM, DVSc, DACZM, DECZM (Zoo Health Management); Lydia Attard1, MSc; Christopher Dutton1, BSc, BVSc, MSc, DACZM, DECZM (Zoo Health Management)
1Toronto Zoo, Toronto, ON, Canada; 2Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph, Guelph, ON, Canada; 3Ol Jogi Wildlife Conservancy, Nanyuki, Kenya


Some species of triatomine insects, a subfamily of Reduviidae, feed on vertebrate blood by puncturing the host’s skin with their proboscis.1,2 The insect bite is painless, and the proboscis is much smaller than a hypodermic needle, producing minimal tissue trauma. Studies on mammals and birds have shown that biochemistry, hematology, and serology can be performed on insect-derived blood samples and generally yield results comparable to conventionally collected samples.1,2 The objective of this pilot study was to investigate the use of triatomine insects as living syringes to collect blood from zoo reptiles. A colony of Triatoma dimidiata (Belize kissing bugs) were acquired from the Centers for Disease Control (Atlanta, USA). Paired blood samples were collected from red-bellied short-necked turtles (Emydura subglobosa, n=5) by conventional venipuncture from the jugular vein versus blood collected by triatomines. Hematologic and biochemistry parameters were measured by an external laboratory. The quality of blood smears made from blood collected using both methods was comparable. Results showed statistically significant correlation between insect-derived and conventionally collected blood parameters. Insect-derived samples had higher hematocrit, uric acid, amylase, aspartate aminotransferase, and globulin levels than jugular samples. Differences in insect-derived samples were likely due to hemolysis and digestive processes within the insect. The use of triatomine insects for blood sampling zoo animals may be useful for animals that would otherwise have to be anesthetized or strongly restrained for venipuncture; taxa that are difficult to bleed using conventional methods; and research protocols requiring an animal that is not stressed by human handling.


The authors thank Dr. Ellen Dotson and Alice Sutcliffe at the Centers for Disease Control (Georgia, USA) for supplying the triatomines and advising on their care. This study was funded in part by a grant from the International Herpetological Society.

Literature Cited

1.  Arnold JM, Oswald SA, Voigt CC, Palme R, Braasch A, Bauch C, et al. Taking the stress out of blood collection: comparison of field blood-sampling techniques for analysis of baseline corticosterone. J Avian Biol. 2008;39(5):588–592.

2.  Thomsen R, Voigt CC. Non-invasive blood sampling from primates using laboratory-bred blood-sucking bugs (Dipetalogaster maximus; Reduviidae, Heteroptera). Primates. 2006;47:397–400.


Speaker Information
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Ellie L. Milnes, VetMB, DVSc
Toronto Zoo
Toronto, ON, Canada

Ontario Veterinary College
University of Guelph
Guelph, ON, Canada

Ol Jogi Wildlife Conservancy
Nanyuki, Kenya

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