Giant Water Bug

The term “bug” is often misapplied to all insects. In fact true bugs are a specific branch characterised by mouth parts dedicated to to sucking. This group includes leaf hoppers, bedbugs, cicadas, pond skaters, aphids, and your mum.

The largest of these, apart from the obvious, is the Giant Water Bug. It’s called that because it’s a bug that lives in water and is really huge. They have other names that say more about them. In order of accuracy. Alligator Ticks is a term used in Florida. They’re not ticks and have no connection to Alligators. It’s a dumb name, and we will give it no further time. Water Scorpion is misleading because there’s another animal called that and it’s not a scorpion either. Giant Water Bug is accurate if bland. Probably the most accurate name is Toe-biters. They get that name from biting toes. Giant Water Bugs have a pair of huge pincers at the front that they use to grab prey, ranging from frogs and small fish right up to snakes and turtles. Very small ones. But they’re not above using those pincers on anything that comes into their waters, including the soft flesh of an intruding human. It’s hard to tell whether they’re attacking a threat or just think the toe is some sort of worm.

These bugs are the largest of their family, and some species get up to 15cm long. They run close to the biggest insects in the world. Australian species usually are more like 6 to 10 cm long.

Naturally, they’re venomous. What they’re injecting is not a neurotoxin or anything, it’s just intended to dissolve their victim’s flesh so they can eat it. Which doesn’t feel as good as it might sound. Bites cause an agonisingly painful throbbing, occasionally also a “pins and needles” feeling, that lasts for several hours. Just as naturally, they can also fly, and fly very well. People often find them on roads, or on grass far from any water. They do this so that if one pool dries up they can go to another one, or to find a mate. There are few things less appealing to come flying at you than the razor sharp pincers of a giant aquatic pain-bringer.

These creatures also don’t make any clear distinction between the natural watercourse they need to survive and… say… your swimming pool. They’re a common visitor to backyard pools, where they often bite people who try to get them out.

Giant Water Bugs are a common food in Thailand, where they’re sold deep fried from small carts on many streets. Locals report they taste not unlike spicy shrimp or prawns. Locals are lying. They taste like someone took a dump in your mouth, only crunchy. They’re also used powdered as a spice, apparently tasting like coriander (better known as cilantro in the US).

Giant Water Bugs are easy to confuse with the unrelated Water Scorpion. They look very similar, except for the long spike coming from the rear of the water scorpion.

Toe Biters, Toe Nippers, Electric-light Bugs, Alligator Ticks
Lethocerus insulanus