Friday 5: 5 Water Bugs

As part of my Ph.D., I’ve had an opportunity to work with the eggs of several different giant water bug species.  I’ll talk about my studies and what I’ve learned here eventually, but one of the things I like most about my research has been working with live water bugs from all over the world.  It’s a really great perk if you’re a bug geek like me!  Today I’m going to highlight 5 species I’ve had living in my office or lab at one point and share a few facts about them.

Abedus herberti

Abedus herberti

Abedus herberti

You’ve all seen this one before!  This is the giant water bug I work with most, the back brooder that is native to Arizona.  This bug is a fairly good size (usually an inch or more) and has an elegant oval shape that I find oddly pleasing.  I think they’re the cutest of the giant water bugs (my completely subjective personal opinion!), but they’re also a lot less aggressive than most of the other bugs I’ve worked with.  In fact, they’re rather laid back for water bugs!  They’re still a lot of fun to watch though.  Granted, they tend to sit very still in one place for long periods of time, but they have some fascinating behaviors that I’ll talk about in future posts.

Lethocerus medius

Lethocerus medius

Lethocerus medius

This is another Arizona native, and one you’ve seen here before.  This is the biggest species in Arizona, but actually one of the smallest Lethocerus species overall.  Not that 2+ inches makes for a small bug, but giant water bugs get much bigger than these!  Medius is a lot of fun to work with, but they’re very different from their Abedus cousins.  They’re aggressive, willing to eat anything they can get their claws on, and live in some really disgusting habitats.  They’re also emergent brooders and will fight anything that tries to mess with their eggs.  I like their feisty personality, though I’ll admit that sometimes they startle me when I feed them.  They are rather vigorous when it comes to capturing food and I can say from personal experience that it’s a little disturbing to see a 2 inch long predatory bug climbing up the tweezers toward your hand!

Lethocerus indicus

Lethocerus indicus

Lethocerus indicus

This is another emergent brooding Lethocerus, but indicus is a lot bigger than medius!  I’ve only had one live one, but I kept her in a tank on my desk for over a year and enjoyed watching her. She was from Vietnam and made for an excellent conversation piece because she was so enormous.  She would also get into these epic battles with the goldfish I fed her, splashing water all over my desk as she wrestled with her soon-to-be dinner.  I was really sad when she died, but I’m practical too.  Nothing illustrates the giantness of giant water bugs like pulling out my nearly 4 inch long specimen at an outreach event  and saying that giant water bugs get even bigger.  I wish I could photograph the facial expressions people make upon hearing this news!  Many are shocked, really and truly shocked, to learn that there are insects that big living in water.  Come to think of it, I should cue up some Jaws music next time I pull my indicus out…  Okay, that would be mean and just make people more scared of water bugs than they already are, which is completely against the point of outreach.  Maybe I should stick to some nice, quiet Grieg instead, perhaps “Morning” from Peer Gynt.  :)

Diplonychus rusticus

Diplonychus rusticus

Diplonychus rusticus

This is another Vietnamese back brooding bug, but this is a genus that we don’t have in the New World.  I was so excited to have these!  They are odd-looking little water bugs with strangely shaped heads, but their air straps, the little protrusions on the back-end that they use to collect air at the surface, are so beautiful!  See those little fluffy bits sticking off either side of the back-end?  Those are the air straps and they expand out into these gorgeous feathery things when fully extended.  I spent hours watching their respiratory behaviors and filmed many more hours of it.  I might revisit the data sometime after I’m done with my degree and have more time to look over my videos again.  For now, I settle for looking through my rather terrible photos now and again and remembering how fun it was to have such a great bug in the lab.

Belstoma micantulum

Belostoma micantulum

Belostoma micantulum

Belostoma micantulum is not a giant giant water bug.  In fact, it’s one of the smallest species of giant water bug, topping out at about 3/8 inch.  They’re surprisingly agile and aggressive little bugs though, and, as you can see in the photo, are willing to capture and eat animals that are relatively quite large.  They also have eggs that are big for their bodies that they drag around with them on their backs, one of the reasons that I included them in one of my studies.  These little guys came from Argentina and lived only a short while, but it was fun to watch such tiny and fiery little bugs swimming around their bowls like they owned the place.

Ah, water bugs!  I just love them!  And getting to work with species from other counties is really exciting.  Not quite as exciting as it might be to, say, travel to the bugs in their native lands, but pretty darned thrilling for someone who spends a lot of time in a lab like I do.  And look out for another water bug post soon!  I just had a paper accepted, so I feel like I can actually share one of my favorite studies with you all now, maybe in a few weeks.

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2 thoughts on “Friday 5: 5 Water Bugs

  1. It’s always interesting to get a hint of the diversity that lies hidden behind the wall of lack of attention. Looking at those pictures, I’m not sure I would even realize that all of them were different species, just seeing them in the wild. I have this happen every time I get a book covering a new group. Whether for dragonflies or butterflies or anything, seeing the diversity on display lets you know what to look for in the wild, and suddenly the world opens up.

    • Yeah, the water bugs tend to look very similar. Distinguishing the genera is relatively easy as they all have unique distinguishing features that are easy to see, but beyond that… You have to start looking at genitalia and other hidden structures to identify the species. At least in groups like the butterflies and dragonflies there are color differences that can help you ID! Water bugs are all similarly mottled brown and that makes them very difficult to distinguish from one another. Granted, there are sometimes 4 or more different color patterns in a single species in dragonflies, which makes things fun in that group too. But you’re right! Knowing what to look for, seeing lots of examples side by side, really helps!

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