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Family Overview
The Belostomatidae, or giant water bugs, include 19 species in 4 genera in North America. Other common names include toe-biters, electric-light bugs (because they often fly to lights at night), or alligator ticks/fleas (in Florida). Some species are among the largest insects. Both larvae and adults live usually among rooted plants in quieter water such as ponds and slowly flowing streams. Both larvae and adults are piercing predators, either stalking or ambushing their prey. Once captured, the prey are injected with salivary secretions to dissolve soft tissue and then the resulting liquid is sucked back through their sharp beaks. Younger larvae and small adults eat mainly other macroinvertebrates, but larger species eat larger crustaceans and small fish and amphibians. There are reports of the largest species consuming baby turtles and water snakes. They are known to feign death, lying still while secreting a fluid from the anus. Even small specimens should be handled carefully because they can inflict a very painful bite; fortunately, the effects soon wear off with no lasting consequences. Males of many species tend the clutch of eggs laid by the female either on the male's back or on vegetation while the male stands guard nearby. Giant water bugs are eaten for food and are considered a delicacy especially by people in eastern and southern Asia.
Characteristics
POLLUTION TOLERANCE
Southeast: up to 9.8
0 = least tolerant, 10 = most tolerant
FEEDING HABITS
Piercer / Predator
MOVEMENT
Climber
Swimmer
Diagnostic Characters
+ Expanded Character List
Order: Adults: With or without wings. If wings present, forewings typically leathery or hard basally and translucent and flexible apically. Nymphs: With or without wing pads. Segmented legs present. Mandibles hidden within needle-like beak in adults and nymphs.
Family: Depressed (flattened dorsoventrally), with elongate-oval shape in dorsal view. Eyes bulging from sides of head. Antennae shorter than head, usually hidden beneath eyes. Beak cylindrical and 3-segmented. Front legs raptorial, with tibiae and femora fitting tightly together to grasp prey. All legs flattened and equipped for swimming, mostly in short bursts. Pair of flat, retractile air straps in posterior end of abdomen for occasional respiration at water surface.