This week our hats are tipped in honor of a particularly unique bug, the giant water bug (Lethocerus americanus)!  Giant water bugs are Hemipterans which belong to the insect family Belostomatidae (about 100 species total).  They can be found across the planet in South America, Australia, Asia, and are the largest insect found in North America.   Their bite is incredibly painful and is rumored to be the most painful bite inflicted by any insect.   Due to the fact that giant water bugs know that they’re bad asses, they feed on anything that they think they can handle (turtles, frogs, snakes, big toes, etc…) and thus they have earned several nicknames such as “toe-biters”, “alligator ticks”, and “biting leaves”.


So as the name suggests… This is a GIANT bug.  Adults are found well over 2 inches long and more than an inch wide.  They’re bodies are a dark gray to brown with orange legs and highlights around the wings and thorax.  These color patterns allow the giant water bug to blend in with leaves and other debris in shallow pools of water.  Their front legs are more like spears that are used to hold onto prey while injecting an immobilizing toxin with its mouth parts.


Like I even have to tell you why I chose the giant water bug as the Bug of the Week…  We all know the answer.  But in case you’re thinking that you’ve missed something critical while reading this or that it’s a trick, I’ll tell you why…

Two Reasons.

Reason 1: Parental Investment!  These ruthless hunters are not only fierce killers, but they are also very caring parents.   Mating takes a long time and a huge amount of energy to complete.  Once the females have been mated and the eggs are fertilized, the females seek out their mates and oviposit (lay eggs) on the elytra of the males.  From this point on the males are left with the responsibility to protect the eggs and ensure a safe hatching for the new little, giant water bug babies.

Reason 2: Theatrical fake deaths!  Everyone hears that playing dead can deter wild animals and even humans that wish you harm.  Well to say the least, that doesn’t always work out.  Maybe that’s because we don’t SELL our fake death as well as giant water bugs do…  When approached by a larger predator, the giant water bug plays dead.  They float lifelessly atop the water and incase that isn’t enough they release a fluid from their rectum to really stress the fact that they are dead.  Often times, collectors mistake this escape tactic as an easy specimen to add to the collection…  However, a quick, surprise attack releases them back to the water while the human hits the floor in pain!

Pretty awesome!


Get rid of it?  You’re crazy…  Unless they’re attacking some of your friends in your decorative pond outside, I’d let them live long and prosper 🙂

And here is a video of the giant water bug hunting and gives some additional tid bits of information!  Enjoy the exciting commentary!!!


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About jonathanixon

I am a dedicated and enthusiastic entomologist focusing on the expansion of public knowledge of entomology, proper IPM practices, and raising the awareness of beneficial insects within the home, garden, and crop systems. Insects are an infinitely diverse population throughout the world and are commonly misunderstood creatures. It is the goal of this blog to help share and promote their uniqueness throughout our internet community.

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