Biting back

Watch out for toe biters!

On a recent snorkel survey in northern California, we came across some of the largest of freshwater insects: Giant Water Bugs, sometimes affectionately referred to as “toe-biters.” Though measuring nearly 1.5 inches in length, the Ferocious Water Bugs we saw (Abedus sp., pictured above) are of very modest size compared to other members of the family Belostomatidae, which can be longer than 4 inches in length. Giant Water Bugs can be found in ponds and rivers nearly worldwide, and though they don’t pose much of a threat to dry-suit clad snorkelers, barefoot bathers who have come into contact with these bugs can attest to the very painful bite these critters can deliver!

As with so many aspects of aquatic life, the community’s take on these bugs differs in Southeast Asia, where they are frequently sold in markets and restaurants for human consumption. Though we have yet to give them a try, open-minded travelers in the Mekong Region can keep a lookout for some freshly prepared Giant Water Bugs, and – for the equivalent of about 65 cents – take the opportunity to bite back…

water bugs in market