Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Giant Water Bug... aka the Toe-Biter





I received an email this morning from a friend up the street who had found this insect near North Bay, Ontario, and was unsure as to what it was.  I love identifying insects for friends and family!  As luck would have it, I knew right away what this fascinating creature was.  A Giant Water Bug! 

This insect falls into the true bug category.  So what is a true bug?  Without getting too technical, a true bug is from the Hemiptera order of insects.  True bugs have a specific wing structure which puts them into this classification of insect.  The term Hemiptera actually means "half wing"".  In this case, half of their front wings are thick and leathery, while the other half are membranous.  Another important criteria for the true bug designation, is the presence of piercing, sucking mouthparts.  These critters cannot chew!  Instead, true bugs pierce their food with their beak-like mouths, pumps saliva into the food source to partly digest it, and then sucks it up like a straw.  The piercing mouthpart of this particular insect cannot be seen in the photos above, as it is tucked underneath its "nose", if you will.

So, the giant water bug has a few other names that it is known by.  One is the toe-biter, and the other is the electric light bug.  The toe-biter name came about as it is often stepped on by unsuspecting victims and the electic light bug name comes from its attraction to electic lights at night. Oh, by the way, these things can fly.  Kind of makes June bugs a little less freaky, huh?!


This insect, which is the largest of the true bugs, can be found in shallow freshwater lakes, streams, ponds and pools.  I found one doing laps in my pool last summer while I was vacuuming it out.  I didn't stick around to play with it, as these critters can have a powerful bite!  Just so you know, I am scared of PLENTY of bugs!  I just find that the more I learn about them, the less there is to fear. 
 
Juicy Tidbits
  • These common brown insects range in size from 1 to 2 3/8 inch
  • They have flattened hind legs that are used for swimming.  
  • Their strong forelegs are used for grasping prey while the insect thrusts its piercing beak into it. 
  • There are two tail-like breathing tubes at the rear end of the toe-biter that help it to breath while underwater. When it needs air, it will raise its abdomen to the surface of the water and extend the breathing tubes.
  • Eats other insects, tadpoles, small fishes, salamanders and careless people's toes.  (kidding about the last food item!)
  • These critters will feign death if picked up, but can suddenly stab with their beaks!  This is not an insect that I would recommend handling at all!!! 

I have found some excellent websites if you would like to know more about the giant water bug



I also used my trusty National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Insects & Spiders, page 463 - 464 for information.

Special thanks to Marc, Meaghan, Keith and Dean for finding this insect and sending it my way!! 


20 comments:

  1. I found one in my yard in St. Catharines, Ontario. Everyone tried to tell me it was a cicada but I knew differently. Glad you posted this photo. I did handle the bug with gloves on. It was very strong. I let it go but found it later in the street. He had been stomped on, but we did save it in a jar for the kids to admire. It is quite a bug I must say.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi Leeanne!

    They are quite the fascinating (and rather creepy) bug, that's for sure! Thanks so much for checking out my blog. : )

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thanks for this information. My Dad told my 7 year-old son about how when he was 7 or 8 he snuck up on a little frog down at the pond and was just about to grab it when he noticed it was collapsing, like a balloon with a slow leak. He watched it for a long time until he saw a huge waterbug swim away from underneath it. We had to research it. Dad said it was as long as his finger and seeing that one, it sure looks like it could be the length of a child's finger. Pretty cool as long as it isn't snacking on your toe.

    ReplyDelete
  4. That would make for a cool time-lapse video.... watching a toe-biter drain its prey.

    Thanks for visiting my blog and leaving a comment!

    Take Care

    ReplyDelete
  5. This is great! Me and my wife just found one of these on our front deck up in Wawa, Ontario and had no idea what it was! kinda glad I didn't pick it up with my hand...LOL.

    jay and polly

    ReplyDelete
  6. I'm glad you didn't pick it up too! Thanks for dropping by and reading my blog. If you ever find a bug and don't know what it is, take a picture of it and email it to me for an i.d.

    Take Care,

    Yvonne

    ReplyDelete
  7. we found one in our pool (oshawa ont) have never seen one before and was wondering what it was and where do they come from? Thanks for the info.

    ReplyDelete
  8. They fly in looking for a deep enough body of water to spend the winter in. Your pool might be just the place...I've got two hanging around my skimmer basket the last couple of days. They don't seem to mind the shock-level chlorination...

    ReplyDelete
  9. We had one in on our deck last summer. No pool or streams, but one neighbour has a pool so maybe that was the attraction. They fly and bite-ugh! Smack first, as questions later!

    ReplyDelete
  10. I'm pretty sure they'd only bite if threatened... like if you stepped on them, as can easily happen with lake goers during the summer. I have actually never heard of anyone getting bit though. I have found two in my pool this summer. I simply net them out and throw them into my neighbour's yard.

    Thanks for reading my blog!

    ReplyDelete
  11. I just saw another one of these this morning, latched to the frame around my garage door. We have a high pressure sodium light on all night and so it was probably attracted by it.

    I have seen these on numerous occasions here in southwestern Quebec. The factory where I work used to keep the garage doors open at night. One of these wandered in and a co-worker, fully aware of my dislike of insects, put one in a box and left it on my desk for me to discover the next day. I wasn't "right" for the rest of the week. That Friday, I left for a fishing trip up north at a fly-in only lake. The next day, I was filleting a northern pike and cut a little too deep, exposing its stomach contents. Therein lay a completely intact water bug. The fillet knife and I flew in opposite directions. Ever since then I've been trying to find a fishing lure that resembles one of these creatures, but then I think about the recoil I'd have every time I opened the tackle box.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Paul! Sorry for my tardy reply... I only discovered your comment now!

      I hope you got your coworker back somehow! lol. Was the toe biter still alive in the pike's stomach? That would have been freaky! I learned the hard way last summer that you can't hold a pike by the bottom lip. There's something I'll never do again ~ ouch!

      I found a place that has hand crafted lures, one of them being a toe biter. Here's the link: http://steffendecoys.ws/page3.html

      I do get a bit freaked out when I see these critters, but have never met anyone who has been bitten by one.

      Thanks for sharing your experience!

      Delete
    2. Likewise on the tardy reply...

      Yeah - don't try the bottom lip thing with trout, either.

      Thankfully, the bug was dead in the pike's stomach - that would have put me over the top.

      I am not a fan of reality shows but I do PVR Masterchef and fast forward through the drama. The latest episode was this season's premiere and it had a guy serving up toe-biters as his dish. Pass.

      I tried Steffen's link but it looks like his site may have moved.

      Cheers,

      Paul

      Delete
    3. Thanks for the trout tip! I am hoping to get some fishing in this summer. Perhaps the boys will keep me better informed on fish handling.

      I'd pass on the toe-biter dish as well. Ew! I have heard that cicadas are quite the delicatessen in some parts of the world.

      Have a great summer!

      Delete
  12. We found one in the warehouse at the Trans Alta Arts Barns in Edmonton! What a place to find one! It was alive too.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Perhaps it was attracted to the lights? Freaky little things, aren't they??!!

      Cheers,

      Yvonne

      Delete
  13. Hey! Thanks for posting the pictures. I work at a child care in North Bay, Ontario and the children in my school age program are forever finding bugs and bringing them to me or catching them in bug containers. We found one of these suckers on our front walk way this morning when the children were waiting for the bus. I pushed it into our large bug container with the lid so as not to touch it but it seemed frozen for a good long while until it heated up.

    Glad to have a name for it. It's sitting next to me at my makeshift desk in my classroom. When the children get off the bus tonight I can show them your pictures. It's freaking out all the other teachers here though and I've been asked to keep it in my room and NOT LET THE LID COME OFF! Haha! It's got the cutest eyes, if you can think that of bug eyes. Other than that it looks creepy.

    ReplyDelete
  14. My dog just found one here in Baton Rouge, La...Quite a long way from Canada...She was trying to step on it...I hope her paws don't become liquified, lol

    ReplyDelete
  15. found one here this morning in haileybury Ontario. Freaked me right out to say the least. If it was this HUGE waterbug.... why was it not in the water! lol thank you for the posts and sharing the info!

    ReplyDelete