Yesterday I returned to my parents’ for a couple of days, and took advantage of the warm weather last night to try for some moths. There’s a great diversity of habitat here, with a mature mixed forest on one side, open scrubby areas to another, of course the wet swamp in the corner of the property. So I was hopeful for some good stuff, and I wasn’t disappointed. That all will be the subject of another post. I’ll be setting up again tonight (I head back home tomorrow), to hopefully add to the list.
I ran my new trap overnight, but I also put out a sheet and blacklight. I got a number of species at the blacklight that didn’t show up in the trap, and some nice ones among them. However, the most interesting thing to come to the sheet last night wasn’t a moth at all. Most of the time I just glance over the beetles and wasps and midges (I can only focus on one taxon at a time, and currently it’s the moths). But I couldn’t ignore this guy. I was leaning forward investigating some moth on the sheet when a very loud buzzing whirr whizzed by my head and flopped on the ground in front of the sheet. Out of the corner of my eye I thought it was a sphinx moth or something big like that, but when I stooped to investigate, it most definitely was not. My second impression was of a cockroach, since it had the same dorso-ventrally flattened body.
But it’s neither. In fact, this is a Giant Water Bug, also called Giant Electric Light Bug, after its habit of coming to artificial lights. It was rather alarming in its size and apparent ferocity. Fortunately, the same features made it very easy to identify. I got a clear plastic container and brought it inside to show my mom. She joked that she wasn’t going outside at night again.
It’s about 6cm (or 2.5″) in length, with these giant broad modified front legs that it uses to secure its food. As its name indicates, it’s an aquatic insect, primarily, associated with swamps and wetlands. Normally it lives in or near the water, preying on aquatic insects, but supplementing this diet with opportunistically-caught vertebrates such as frogs or small fish. It uses a tubular rostrum to suck out the body fluids of its victims. It can inflict a painful bite, and so also has the name “Giant Toebiter”, which I would assume dates back to the days when kids were more likely to wade into mucky water barefoot (I used to do that as a kid, carefree about the creatures inhabiting it; I’m more cautious now, but it’s more because of concerns over submerged or buried sharp things, especially glass or metal garbage).
Check out the giant eyes, which it obviously uses in stalking its prey. Plus the giant single claws at the end of each leg. I’m not sure what the white goop on its one eye is. The bugs are found across North America; there’s actually three species that are similar in appearance (I’m not sure which one I have here), and which overlap in range. Young look similar, but are obviously much smaller and take smaller prey. It takes them five moults to reach adulthood, which they do in a season; they overwinter buried in the mud as an adult. This site suggests that adults are edible, but I’m not sure I’d find them much of a delicacy.
When I copied the photos to my computer and looked at them closely, I discovered that the bug had been carrying what I took to be mites. You can also see a couple of large ones in the second photo, where it has its wings spread. I have no idea what species they are, or even if they are really mites, and not fleas or some other parasite like that. It seemed to have a good infestation going.
It’s amazing how it’s possible to overlook something that you would think would be quite obvious. If it comes to lights, why have we never seen it at the porch light? And being so large, you’d think we would have noticed it one of these times when down poking around the ponds. But it somehow escaped our notice to now.