There are some formidable insects out there, and giant water bugs have got to be some of the most impressive out there. I mean, they’re called giant water bugs. What other evidence do you need?

Giant water bugs make up the family Belostomatidae. They are known by a number of different common names, including toe-biters, electric-light bugs and alligator ticks. Water bugs occur all over the world, although the majority of species can be found in North and South America, Australia and East Asia. Their preferred habitat is in freshwater streams or ponds, so look for them if you’re ever hanging around a pond.

A giant water bug with a finger for scale.
Image By Frank Vassen from Brussels, Belgium – Giant water bug (Belostomatidae), Vohimana reserve, Madagascar, CC BY 2.0

Of course, with a name like ‘giant water bug’, you’d expect these guys to be big, and you’d be right. Most species are at least an inch long, with the biggest species growing over 4.75 inches long. Water bugs have modified front legs that are made for grasping and holding onto prey. The bugs also have sharp mouthparts, which are used to inject venom into the water bugs’ victims.

That’s right, giant water bugs also have toxic saliva, which is similar in composition to snake venom. They inject their saliva into anything they catch, and the insides of the poor victim are liquified, so the water bugs can just drink their meal. These can include amphibians, fish, crustaceans, snakes, and even birds. Not too shabby for a water bug.

A male water bug carrying around his precious offspring.
Image By Greg Hume – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

Female water bugs are responsible for finding someone to mate with, while males are tasked with taking care of the young. In many species, the eggs are laid on the wings of the male, who then carries them around, protects them and keeps them well oxygenated. They look pretty funny while they do this, but I have to say I’m pretty impressed by the male’s commitment.

With their toxic bite, water bugs are something you should probably avoid. Though the bite isn’t clinically significant, it is one of the most painful bites a human can get from an insect, so I wouldn’t go out of your way to find these guys. Oh and I should probably mention that when threatened, water bugs have been known to play dead, so don’t be fooled if you see one that looks deceased. You might be in for an unpleasant surprise.

Cover image By Ryan Hodnett – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0