Salt and Pepper, the duo

In a previous post, I introduced the Giant Water Bug, Belostomatidae.  I thought I’d revisit my experience with keeping them as pets, but first, to get you excited about these guys, check out this youtube video.

An epic battle between a Water Bug and an Odonate.   At 00:18, you can see the poor Odonate start to bleed from it’s “nose.”  They duke it out for a little at 00:50 and I really enjoy 1:45 to the end.

To start my story of my little Belostomas, years ago, when I was still working for the biomonitoring lab, we were out on one of our daily fall field excursions, mucking around a muddy slow winder somewhere in Vermont.  My boss disappeared to sweep the overhanging grassy banks with his kicknet, while I attended to filling out the field sheet and water bottles.  (image below, not a slow winder…)

herbs

He returned with a net full of detritus (no doubt with hidden invertebrate treasures) and began transferring the glob of organic matter into mason jars.  A Water Bug managed to climb out of the net and plopped into the grass.  “Spare me!”  It shrieked.  My boss obliged and snatched it up, placing it in it’s own empty jar.  Soon, a second water bug joined it, a buddy.  And there we had, two bugs floating in a mason jar of stream water.  I don’t remember what I was thinking or if there was even any thinking at all.  But those two bugs came home with me that day.  They had escaped death by ethanol.

Belostoma flumineum:
herbs

At home, I setup an aquarium and there they lived, fed by the local insects I provided them.  Once or twice, I brought home a small minnow to offer them.  But the idiots took no notice.  I’ve always known Giant Water Bugs capable of eating small fish or frogs, but I guess Salt and Pepper weren’t brave or large enough for this feat.  They were only mere Belostoma flumineum, the smaller of the Belomstomatidae and not the large and lethal Belostoma lethocerus.  So, my little flumineums ate the small tasty treats I brought to them from the backyard or the pet store.

Now the method of feeding was a little ridiculous, (see video below of similar Water Bug owner).  I had to practically hand feed them, gently grasping a cricket with forceps and delicately holding it in front of the beaks of the stupid bugs.  If I didn’t deliberately hold it there, the cricket would float and paddle around the surface of the water, the bugs completely blind to the meal suspended above them.

When Salt or Pepper (there was no way to tell them apart, I did consider dabs of nail polish), snagged hold of a cricket, they hooked and pulled it in with their arms, as a praying mantis does.  They’d pierce the prey with their beak, and maybe another kick or twitch from the cricket, but that would be that.   If the cricket got away, the Sal/Pep would make little effort for giving chase and I’d usually go fishing for the cricket with my forceps, to again hold the cricket in front of the dumb bug’s beak.  Once the gentle sucking of the cricket juices was complete, the carcass was released to rise and float on the surface.

After a little over a year of residing in the tank, one bug mysteriously disappeared.  Not a trace of an empty shell or anything.  The wire mesh top appeared secure enough and hole-less.  What had happened?  Still a mystery to me to this day.  My roommate and guests were not to pleased to hear this, that a bug had escaped and was rogue in the apartment, ready to pierce them with it’s beak as soon as they sat down on the couch or maybe creep up on them while they slept.  Soon after Salt (or Pepper’s) disappearance, Pepper (or Salt) died.  No doubt abandoning life without his (or her) buddy.  And so, I was left bug-less and pet-less.

Ever summer, I consider obtaining new aquatic pets.  No doubt a nice water scorpion or odonate would be thrilling to have around.  Caddisflies, mayflies, and stoneflies would offer more of challenge, having to create a more controlled and flowing water environment for them.

Note: When my sister and I were in Florida last year, we were graced with experiencing why they are called “electric bugs.”  We came back to our car at night and the bugs were everywhere, attracted to the lights of the parking lot.  I relocated a bunch into the grass so I could back the car up safely without crunching any.  My sister wasn’t as thrilled as I was about the whole situation.

Behold, Belostoma lethocerus in Florida:

herbs

P.S. If you want to read even more about Belostomas, here’s a Scientific American blog post:
http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/artful-amoeba/2013/08/27/the-attack-of-the-giant-water-bug/