a giant water bug bites a Cope's gray tree frog in a pond. yuck.

Three Cheers for the Giant Water Bug

Happy Fathers Day to all the great dads out there, even the 6-legged ones

Published06/17/2020 , by Holly Menninger, director of public engagement and science learning

A children's book with a lion cub & father. Text:I love my daddy because... by laurel porter gaylord pictures by ashley wolffWhen my son was a baby, he received a lovely, little board book, I Love My Daddy Because…, written by Laurel Porter-Gaylord and illustrated by Ashley Wolff. (link if you want: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/730449.I_Love_My_Daddy_Because_)

As you flip through the pages, you encounter various members of the animal kingdom (mostly birds and mammals) where males of a species behave in important ways that provide parental care, shelter, protection, and learning opportunities for their offspring.

The common loon carries chicks on his back.

The emperor penguin keeps his chick safe and warm on top of his feet, nestled under his belly.

Beaver and muskrat work in partnership with their mates to build and defend lodges and dens, where they raise their young.  

And so on…

I appreciate the book’s sentiments, but this trained entomologist wishes the author would have been a bit more inclusive in her consideration of fathers throughout the animal kingdom. Specifically, I’d like to see a shout out to Giant Water Bugs!

Giant water bugs (Family: Belostomatidae) are large aquatic insects commonly found in submerged vegetation along the edges of freshwater ponds, lakes and wetlands. Nicknamed “toe biters,” giant water bugs are fierce predators that capture and feast on other insects and invertebrates, snails, tadpoles, and even small fish and frogs (see the photo at the top of this post for a giant water bug hunting a Cope’s gray tree frog).

Male giant water bugs assume most of the responsibility when it comes to parental care of their offspring. For some species in this family, the female lays a clutch of eggs (up to 150!) directly on the backs of males. As the eggs are developing, the male frequently makes trips to the water’s surface to keep the eggs well-oxygenated. If you had an underwater pond camera, you might see these dads doing “push-ups” underwater to keep water (and oxygen) circulating around those eggs. Males of other species—including the biggest giant water bug you can find here in Minnesota, the 2 inch long, 1 inch wide Lethocerus americanus —care for their eggs out of water. Females lay eggs on sticks or vegetation emerging from the water’s surface. Daddy-o hangs out nearby and makes frequent trips between water and eggs to keep them moist.

We’ve kept a keen eye on the pond in the Bell Museum’s Learning Landscape, in search of giant water bugs. So far, we’ve found immatures of all sizes when we sample with a net, suggesting that Dad(s) successfully reared the eggs in his care (Way to go, Pop!). Adults swim quickly underwater so it’s typically hard to snag or see one. But if you’re interested in seeing an adult giant water bug, keep your eyes peeled for them flying around large lights in a parking lot near water (An aside: I collected a giant water bug buzzing in front of a mercury vapor light illuminating an undisclosed national monument for my grad school insect collection). If you do catch one, mind your fingers and the giant water bug’s “toe biter” nickname—they have piercing mouthparts that can wallop quite a painful bite when provoked.

So as you toast the fathers in your life this coming Father’s Day, let’s also give a nod to the dads across the animal kingdom who are caring for, protecting, and teaching the next generation of offspring.

And if you’re in need of a card for your dear old dad this Father’s Day? Take some inspiration from the giant water bug and decorate this coloring page for your pop (thanks to MN PCA). https://www.pca.state.mn.us/sites/default/files/color-october-giantwaterbug.pdf