Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Giant Water Bug

A Giant Water Bug, Lethocerus americanus, in repose. This incredible bug is well-named, as we shall see.

John Howard, I and a few others were poking around a small reservoir deep in Shawnee State Forest, Scioto County, Ohio, yesterday. We were admiring many Red-spotted Newts swimming about in the clear water like fish, when John exclaimed "Toe-biter!" The colorful name is a colloquialism for the larger species of water bugs, and it does look like they could put a serious clamp on one's tootsies.

Your narrator's finger provides scale to the Giant Water Bug. They can stretch 3-4 inches. GWB's, as they're known (at least now), are voracious predators. Much of their time is spent hiding among dead leaves in the shallows, awaiting potential prey. If something tasty happens by, the big bug springs to life and rapidly swims down the victim, seizing it with those formidable forelegs.

The soon to be meal is pierced with a syringe-like proboscis, and various compounds are injected which debilitate the victim and turn its innards to mush. The contents are then sucked back through the proboscis; a homicidal maniac's milkshake.

While this big bug can inflict a painful bite to people, one would have to work hard or be rather foolish to receive a bite. John was handling the water bug to set up some photographs, and it was quite docile. He of course was cautious about getting near the mouthparts. I'm sure if incautiously handled, a foolish person would indeed get a jab that they would long remember.

The business end of the Giant Water Bug. Not a face you'd want to see headed your way, if you were reasonably small and aquatic.

In a rare case of invertebrate turning the tables on vertebrates, Giant Water Bugs can seize, kill and eat smaller members of the backboned crowd. They'll capture small fish, amphibians, and even small snakes. Remarkably, heavily armored and also formidable crayfish are sometimes taken.

It's quite fortunate for us humans that these things are not the size of large carp, or we'd probably be a course on their dinner plate.

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