Belostomatidae: From Predator to Delicacy
Belostomatidae, also known as “giant water bugs,” are easily recognizable by their large size and a pair of short, strap-like posterior respiratory appendages. They are one of the largest insects in the Hemiptera order. They use these appendages to obtain air at the water’s surface. They are large, predatory aquatic insects that will fly in large numbers to light during evening hours, hence another nickname: “electric light bugs.” They have two ways of inflicting harm: attacking with their painful beak or pinching with their large front legs. They prey on a number of different organisms such as aquatic insects, small fish, frogs, tadpoles, small birds, and any other organism they are able to capture. These water bugs will inject a deadly enzyme into their prey in order to kill and consume them.
Water bugs are fierce predators and often scary pool companions. They often give quite the fright when found in a public pool taking a dip or scouring a shopping center parking lot. They are large and can be aggressive, but at the end of the day, they are just looking for a nice, clean habitat. In the wild these insects prefer to dwell in ponds, lakes, and ditches; any slow-moving body of freshwater makes a great dwelling place for them. These insects have two siphons, otherwise known as breathing tubes, projecting from the back of their abdomen that allow them to patiently wait and capture their prey. As mentioned, they are aggressive and will stop at nothing to get a meal.
Belostomatids demonstrate an interesting reproductive habit. In most of the animal kingdom, the females make efforts to care for the young; however, this is not the case for these water bugs. As it’s said in one of my favorite movies, A Bug’s Life, “it’s a bug-eat-bug world out there!” This is certainly the case in the real world, so the female water bugs will lay their eggs on the backs of the males so that the eggs have protection from being eaten before they hatch.
Although these large water bugs are excellent predators, they often become prey. In certain parts of east Thailand, they are sold as street food. It has been said that they taste a bit like shrimp. They are collected using nets or attractive lighting, and once caught they can be prepared in various ways: fried, steamed, roasted, and grilled. Sometimes even after cooking they are pounded and used for flavoring sauces and curries. Curiously, males are considered tastier because of the sweet fragrance they secrete from two abdominal glands, and they are often made into a prized sauce used to accompany fish and meat. In markets, these Belostomadid males will sell for four times the price of females.
Just as we all have a weakness, these Belostomadids’ kryptonite is being quite tasty. The next time you see one of these fierce bugs trying to bite your toe, maybe you can catch it and have it for an afternoon treat!
BCE Director of Training
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