Giant Water Bugs

(Abedus herberti)

waterbug1wAffectionately known
as “toe biters,” giant
water bugs inhabit
freshwater streams
and ponds. They are
ferocious ambush
predators. They sit
motionless and use
crypsis (hiding in plain sight) to bite
unsuspecting prey as
it comes by. They can
eat fish, crustaceans,
and even snakes and
turtles.  Their powerful jaws give a bite that some say is the most
painful of all of the insects.  However, their bite is not lethal to
humans and, although it can cause considerable swelling of a toe or
finger, it carries very little venom.  The water bug can “play dead”
when faced with a larger predator.  They lie upside down and emit a
foul odor.  But when danger subsides they attack.

Giant water bugs are very modern and turn upside down the notion
of sex roles.  In this society the female actively and constantly
searches for a new mate.   Once she finds a male, she glues her eggs
onto the male’s back and he cares for the eggs.  While he is carrying
the eggs he cannot mate another female.  One interesting care
behavior is known as “brood-pumping,” wherein the male water bug
performs push up like movements underwater to promote flow of
oxygen rich water around the eggs.

When ready, the infants will emerge and swim from their eggs one
by one until the entire clutch has hatched.  The glue that has held
them on their father’s back suddenly sloughs off and he is free once
again to repeat the cycle of mating and caring for the eggs with a
new female.  The adult water bugs will devour the infants if they do
not swim far enough away from them.  Here at the Randall Museum
when the babies hatch the Animal Exhibit staff removes them from
the tank and sets each baby up in a home of its own.  (Babies will
devour each other as well.)  The young water bugs go through a
series of molts to become an adult.

Water Bugs cannot breathe underwater.  They must come to the
surface for air.  Because they are flightless, water bugs sometimes
travel overland if the water body they inhabit dries up.  Isolated
populations in high elevation ponds are thought to be diverging into
new species.  Check out our collection of giant water bugs in the aquarium on display along the ramp leading down the museum’s art and ceramics studios.

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