Lethocerus americanus is a giant water bug in the family Belostomatidae, native to southern Canada and the United States (north of 35th parallel north; other Lethocerus species are found southwards). It typically has a length of about 5–6 cm (2.0–2.4 in). It was originally classified as a species in genus Belostoma.
Commonly found in ponds, marshes and on the edges of lakes and slow moving streams, adults and larvae feed on other insects, small crustaceans (crabs/crayfish), tadpoles, snails and small fish. The adult swims with the aid of its hind legs. A pair of front forelimbs are used for capturing and latching onto its intended prey, which it then injects with digestive toxins through a somewhat retractable proboscis much like that of a mosquito. Lethocerus tends to let its prey pre-digest for 10–15 minutes before eating. Multiple L. americanus have been seen to hunt and then share the same prey animal. Underwater, the adult breathes air that it traps under its wings using two snorkel-like tubes that extend from the rear of its abdomen.
Commonly known as "toe biters", L. americanus may deliver a painful bite if handled or disturbed. However, they prefer to avoid humans rather than engage them whenever possible. If disturbed in the water, the speed of L. americanus allows it to quickly break away while its natural camouflage easily conceals it. Even if agitated on dry land, the L. americanus will first attempt to escape or play dead before raising its forelimbs and hindquarters in what resembles a fighting stance. If agitation continues, L. americanus will use its forelimbs to latch onto the source of the agitation and attempt to deliver a painful bite. Also known as the "electric light bug", it may be attracted by electric lights while flying at night.
Lethocerous makes a fascinating aquarium pet, creating little waste and preferring inherently to feed on small crustaceans and feeder shrimp rather than more valuable aquarium fare. However, when choosing to care for a Lethocerous/Lethoceri one must be sure that the aquarium lid is completely secure with no room for the insect to escape (as Lethocerous has the ability to fly).
- W. L. Hoffman (1924). "Biological Notes on Lethocerus americanus (Leidy)". Psyche 31 (5): 176–183. doi:10.1155/1924/86146.
- P. J. Perez-Goodwyn (2006). Taxonomic revision of the subfamily Lethocerinae Lauck & Menke (Heteroptera: Belostomatidae)". Stuttgarter Beiträge zur Naturkunde. A (Biologie) 695: 1–71.
- A. C. Huntley (1998). "Lethocerus americanus, the "toe biter"". Dermatology Online Journal 4 (2): 6.
- The Giant Water Bug (Lethocerus americanus), Nature North
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