I was on a mission to secure aquatic invertebrates from the Wetlands for Nancy Dragotta-Muhl (Learning Communities). It was Magic Wings Festival time and she wanted to have some insects on display at her table outside of the Butterfly House for folks to see as they wandered around the area listening to the rhythms of global music in the plaza.
One haul of the net from the brown water of the Wetlands yielded two Giant Waterbugs, insects in the family Belostomatidae. These insects are predators to be sure. They’ll go after a variety of prey which includes other aquatic insects, tadpoles, fish and just about anything else that crosses their path.
Some members of the family can reach 4.5 cm in length. The ones that I netted were more like 2.5 cm in length.
A peculiar behavior of some of the giant waterbug species is that the female will lay eggs on the back of the male and he is charged with the protection and nurturing of the eggs as they develop.
Besides eggs, these insects also carry with them a reputation for biting, they’ll give you a good nip on your finger if you mishandle them. And, they have earned the nickname “toe-biter” but I have never been bitten on the toe by one of these bugs.
These insects are good fliers and are sometimes attracted to lights at night. The males, however, sacrifice flight while carrying the eggs and are waterbound during the 1-3 weeks it takes the eggs to hatch.
How did this behavior of laying eggs on the back of the male waterbug evolve? I don’t know, but I do know that the process leading up to the male allowing the eggs to be deposited on his back is a long drawn out affair involving the pair mating up to 50 times before the process is complete! Check out what The Dragonfly Woman has to say about it, she’s studied these very common but strange insects for her dissertation and has seen it all.
Along with the waterbugs, I also netted a Water Scorpion, water striders, backswimmers, a crayfish, various other aquatic invertebrates, and a Golden Shiner. There was a good variety of creatures in the little aquarium at Nancy’s table for folks to gaze upon, but on this particular day the waterbugs were my favorites.