Friday 5: My Favorite Aquatic Bugs

As an aquatic entomologist in Arizona, I come across a ton of aquatic true bugs (order: Hemiptera) as I work.  We have nearly every family of aquatic true bug in the US somewhere in the state and at least one type is found in nearly every water body I’ve encountered.  We have a lot of bugs!  Considering I also study a bug, it seems fitting to devote a Friday 5 to the bugs.  I can’t believe I haven’t done it already!  These are my top 5:


giant water bug

Giant water bug, Family Belostomatidae, Abedus herberti

Okay, okay.  We all know I love my belostomatids dearly.  They’re awesome though!  They eat things that are vastly bigger than they are, including things with backbones.  Some of them are amazing fliers.  They’ve got some interesting respiratory behaviors (I’m saving that for a future post).  And then there’s the whole parental care thing.  Really, what’s not to love about a giant water bug?  Two more interesting facts: belostomatids are readily eaten in southeastern Asia (a glandular secretion of a Lethocerus species is highly prized in Vietnam) and members of the genus Lethocerus are considered pests of fish hatcheries.  Super cool bugs!


creeping water bug

Creeping water bug, Family Naucoridae, Ambrysus sp.

Naucorids, also known as the creeping water bugs, are the often overlooked distant cousins of the water bugs.   As you can see, they look very similar and they are often found side by side with water bugs in streams or ponds.  But naucorids are oh so fabulous!  I am a lover of the unlovable, so I like them partly because they have a nasty bite.  It adds significant zest to the experience of catching them.  I have never been bitten by either water bugs or naucorids, but listening to a person talk about a giant water bug bite and then a naucorid bite, it’s clear that naucorids are vastly more painful even though they’re smaller.  Naucorids are also really cool because they a) use a plastron, a permanent air bubble that allows them to extract oxygen from the water, to breathe as nymphs, b) are sometimes found in hot springs, hot desert pools, or very salty water, and c) can make sounds.  Seriously though: avoid the pointy bits on the head!

3. Toad bugs (Family: Gelastocoridae)

toad bug

Toad bug, Family Gelastocoridae, Gelastocoris sp.

I am absolutely thrilled to come across these little guys!  They’re the most adorable insect on the planet as far as I’m concerned.  Just look at them!  They’re called toad bugs for obvious reasons and they really do look remarkably like some of the little toadlets that crawl up onto the shores during the monsoons.  They also move like toads by making short little hops.  Toad bugs are shore bugs, so they always live near water, but live on land.  They blend in with the shore like mad too.  They’re nearly impossible to see unless you happen to see one jump.  Sometimes I go looking for them, and even then I’ve only seen three or four live toad bugs in the wild.  Toad bugs eat other shore insects and mites and suck water out of the sand on the shores.  Pretty darned cool little bugs.



Water measurer, Family Hydrometridae, Hydrometra sp. Photo by the fabulous Kate Redmond!

I am totally in love with these bugs!  Like the toad bugs, hydrometrids are nearly impossible to see, even when you’re actively searching for them.  They are about a centimeter long so they’re a decent length, but they are incredibly thin (less than a millimeter wide) and they tend to blend right into the background.  They also move very slowly, so there’s little chance you’re going to catch the movement of one out of the corner of your eye.  Hydrometrids live on the surface of the water in areas where there’s a lot of vegetation and hunt small bugs on the surface.  I think they look a lot like walking sticks, but just look at that fabulous little head!  So cute.  Confession: I once jumped off a boat when I saw one of these on the water’s surface, right out in the open where I actually had some hope of seeing it.  They’re that exciting to find!  (Then just 30 minutes later, my boss and I saw a bear swim across the lake and climb straight up a cliff, and 10 minutes after that were boating through a massive monsoon storm.  Best sampling day ever!)

1. Water scorpions (Family: Nepidae)

Water scorpion

Water scorpion, Family Nepidae, Ranatra quadridentata

I’m going to devote an entire post to these guys, so I’m not going to go into a lot of detail here.  My favorite aquatic bug deserves its own post!  For now, just know that the water scorpions are the most closely related insects to the giant water bugs and are similar to them in many ways.  However, while giant water bugs are the big beefy football captains of the aquatic insect world, the water scorpions (at least the ones in the genus Ranatra, pictured here) are the skinny little nerdy kids that weigh 95 pounds in spite of subsisting on a diet of Coke and chicken strips.  Athletic and muscular versus awkward and gangly.  With a name like water scorpion, you’d think they’d be a little more bad a**, but that is sadly not the case.  Love ’em!

So, are you a bug lover yet?  If you’ve made it this far, it’s probably painfully obvious that I am!  Be sure to check back in a few weeks for more buggy goodness as I attempt to make you fall hopelessly in love with water scorpions!


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