bug at morgue

Well, I saw the thing comin' out of the sky
It had the one long probe, compound eyee
I commenced to shakin' and I said "ooh-eee"
Looks like a Belostomatidaeeee

It was a one-eyed, one-horned, flyin' purple people eater
(One-eyed, one-horned, flyin' purple people eater)
A one-eyed, one-horned, flyin' purple people eater
Sure looks strange to me (one eye?)
--(Kindly forgive my manipulation of the lyric sample by Sheb Wooley)

And yes, these most painful monsters of our wetlands, from O Canada above, to the fruited plains below, and Good Morning Vietnam oh so far away, and never mind Amazonia, will evoke correctly appropriate fear from people. They are the stuff of nightmares, says Indonesian journalist, Natasha Ishak, and is why they are also called the toe-biter.  Just don’t kill them in reaction, for they are important as apex invertebrate predators within their respective ecosystems, and the Aztec saw them as a delicious food source.  More on that in a bit.

But, if you wish, be afraid... be very very afraid, as all hallows eve approaches, and you wonder, in the warmer climes, if you and your honey should step into the water. Perhaps in your mind, you are already hearing the slowly creeping, baarraoomph, mounting music from Jaws.  For these bugs, of about 150 species that range in size from 0.9 cm images(0.35 inches) to over 12 cm (5 inches), come with exoskeletal equipment in their mouthparts, which, with their raptorial forelegs, can grab your finger if you hold them wrong, and instantly draw it into a really creepy, hypodermic needle-sharp proboscis that normally stays folded under its head. “After [that] violent stab, giant water bugs inject a powerful digestive saliva into their prey”, or, as in my case, the soft flesh right between two fingers. That’s what happened to me, when canoeing the Nashua River in Massachusetts while sampling invertebrate biomass with a net, as an environmental science student in 1975. And I should have known, because it was jerking it’s head plate against it’s thoracic wing plate, somewhat like a rattle snake warns before defensively striking.  They can also play dead, as a defensive reflex, or just waiting for something that can be up to 50 times bigger than itself to come by and grab. They like frogs and fish, just sucking in their juices with that proboscis which first injects a toxic, enzyme rich saliva brew that stuns its prey (and makes you scream) and then liquefies its meat and organs like a smoothie in a bag, often while still alive.  

Take a look at the creepiest, most dramatic video of insect behavior I have ever seen (and I’ve seen many), embedded within this Sun article. By right-clicking on this image-capture from the video, you can open it in a new tab so as to not loose this page.

bug video image capture

“The bug then sucks the liquefied guts through its rostrum like a straw. Using this method, the giant water bug is able to capture and eat animals up to fifty times its own size”, though this one doesn't qualify.  You'll have to see the video to experience something close to it.

But for the sake of the planet, you might want to consider what some indigenous Americans, and so many other current cultures around the world, do with these bugs. They are a rich and environment-sustaining source of protein.  Below this article, among many, you will find a well-produced Vietnamese cooking video, which shows how to make delicious meals with them.  For example the “Aztecs would coat [them] with corn before eating, [and it] is a major food resource in Mexico. giant water bug BHowever, pollution and the drying up of wetlands now threaten harvesting. Owing to their granular appearance, giant water bugs’ eggs, known as water amaranth, are also very popular and their taste is said to be similar to caviar. In France, giant water bugs are sold in sachets in shops specialising in the sale of edible insects. They are sold cooked, without wings or legs. Rich in proteins, calcium and iron, giant water bugs are eaten as an appetiser or in a salad.” --Alimentarium  

The bite of most giant water bug species is considered to be the most painful of all insect bites in the world. But you won't need to dial 911. The saliva enzymes are not dangerous to you, except perhaps through an allergic reaction. You'll get over it, but will never forget it... unless you have a heart attack, since then you might not be able to reach for your smartphone.

They're all over the US, in ponds and marshes, but a Madagascar species can be almost 3 times as big as the largest ones commonly found in America.

Giant water bug Belostomatidae Vohimana reserve Madagascar 13569458513

Now that I've made you paranoid, statistically and due to these bugs desire not to tangle with humans, don't worry about them too much as you enjoy your swim or barefoot walk on Golden Pond by the weedy shore. How many people do you know who’ve actually been bitten by one? Through the water they’ll sense the vibration of your approach, have excellent eyesight, and dash away before you see them... well, unless they are playing dead and you step on one. depositphotos 21686593 stock illustration smiley vector illustration monster

You will sometimes see them flying very noisily around an outdoor light bulb.

The US National Park Service does actually put out a warning about them on Facebook, like they do about grizzlies. I am laughing outloud as I write these final sentences from Copenhagen. Please enjoy the videos below, as you wait for those who spookily are not coming to trick or treat you because they are wise about the pandemic

Summing it all up, though the giant water bug is not quite the scariest insect in the world – that would probably belong to giant dobsonflythis one from China, a harmless dobsonfly species – they deliver perhaps the most painful bite of the insect world and can dramatically put down animals much much bigger than themselves, making them a critically important apex predator for the aquatic ecosystems they occupy.  Rice paddies produce more successful crops with Belostomatidae around to help control pests. Cultivating and eating them (and a whole host of insects easier to harvest) in an ecologically friendly way provides an excellent and sustainable source of protein to titillate your gastronomical curiosities.  By the way, the jaws on that beast above have more to do with sex than eating.

Oh, about sex, ”Giant water bugs are dads par excellence. After these insects mate, the female of some species of the bug cements her eggs to the male's back and then hits the road, leaving the dad to parent alone. For upwards of two weeks, the male diligently cleans and aerates the eggs, fiercely defending them from a host of predators and other dangers until the babies hatch. One study found that female giant water bugs prefer males already carrying eggs on their back — meaning that evidence of skill in paternal care is rewarded by female sexual selection.” – Center for Biological Diversity

WTF is crawling up your neck? 

*NOTE: a) Article title and image lyric sample credit to Sheb Wooley. b) Header/subtitle credit to Scientific American


Good 1-1/2 min video, HD closeup of how it attacks a fish, disables it, and then sucks in the juices, and with really scary music


Up close and personal, overdramatized, for why it's also called the Toe Biter


Birth of the bugs on daddy monster, 1st stage of metamorphosis into eventual adulthood.  Pretty cool science


Sucking in liquifying organs in frog in wild, while it’s still alive (1-1/2 minutes)


Man eating a fried one at a Cambodian food market.  Be aware that it is this sort of open and likely unregulated market which often do more harm to the enviroment than good, as well as the potential for mutations of pathogens that can cause pandemics


Cooking Technique: Making Spicy Giant Water Bug Paste in My Village - Giant Water Bug Recipe


Observations of Belostomatidae behavior from a field station

Five fun facts about them 

Dragonfly Woman shares her dissertation on the monster's mating behavior

Blog on the North American species (from Canada

Bent Lorentzen

Bent Lorentzen

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