This week’s Friday 5 features a subject near and dear to my heart: giant water bugs! If you aren’t familiar with these beasts, they have some really amazing characteristics that make them a fascinating group of insects to study. I’ve already covered giant water bug parental care and feeding in other posts. Today I’m going to share 5 fun facts about giant water bugs. I hope that knowing these facts will help you fall in love with these wonderful bugs!
1. The largest true bug (i.e. member of the insect order Hemiptera) in the world is a giant water bug.
Lethocerus maximus is truly a giant, reaching nearly 5 inches in length! However, if you want to add one to your collection, you’ll have to visit northern South America. The Lethocerus in the US are piddly in comparison, topping out at about 2.5 inches – half the size of the biggest species.
2. Giant water bugs can be cannibalistic.
A hungry giant water bug will eat almost anything it can get its claws on, including its own young (only when very hungry or something has gone wrong with the eggs a male is caring for), the young of other individuals, and each other. Female Lethocerus are also known to rip apart the egg clutches deposited by other females when there aren’t enough males with good egg laying sites to go round. However, I haven’t observed giant water bugs eating each other in the field unless there is very little other food available and they are getting desperate. It would seem they prefer not to eat each other, but they will when they have no other choice.
3. Giant water bug mating can take several hours, especially in the back brooding species.
Mating is a long, involved process in the back brooding giant water bugs. First the male does little push ups in the water. These are thought to send vibrations through the water that the females respond to. After a male and a female find one another, they mate. Then the female climbs on the back of the male and lays a few eggs, maybe 4. Then the male shakes her off and they mate again. Then she lays a few more eggs before being shaken off again. This goes on and on until most of the back of the male is covered with eggs, sometimes 150 altogether! You can see how this might take a long time. The water bugs in the photo took over 6 hours to lay all of their eggs.
4. Not all giant water bugs are giant.
Belostoma parvum, a giant water bug from northern South America, can be less than a centimeter long. It’s a not-so-giant water bug! In fact, several species of giant water bugs in the genus Belostoma are actually quite small and don’t live up to the “giant” in their name at all. The giant water bug pictured here is Belsotoma micantulum, a tiny little giant water bug that maxes out at a little over a half an inch long. Pretty cute though, especially when munching on a mealworm that is WAY too big for her! :)
5. At least one species has a nifty flood-avoidance behavior.
Imagine you’re an aquatic insect and a flash flood is headed your way. You’re going to be ground into a bloody pulp if you stick around. What do you do? If you’re the giant water bug Abedus herberti, you climb out of the stream before it floods! This species crawls out of the water and walks perpendicularly to the bank until it reaches shelter away from the stream. After the flood passes through, it crawls back into the water and carries on with its regular activities. Awesome behavior! And you can see a video of it online by visiting Dr. Dave Lytle’s website. He filmed Abedus herberti leaving the stream after artificially simulating flood conditions with a fire hose. The video is hilarious, so I encourage you to take 30 seconds out of your day to watch it.
Aren’t giant water bugs cool? I love my bugs. Considering they mostly just sit in one place hoping that food will swim by, it never ceases to amaze me just how many wild characteristics these bugs really have. Hope you enjoyed this little peek into some of the many fascinating things these bugs have going for them!
Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © TheDragonflyWoman.com