Belostomatidae is a family of insects in the order Hemiptera, known as giant water bugs or colloquially as toe-biters, electric-light bugs and Alligator Ticks or Fleas (in Florida). They are the largest insects in the order Hemiptera, and occur worldwide, with most of the species in North America, South America, Northern Australia and East Asia. They are typically encountered in freshwater streams and ponds. Most species are relatively large (2 cm or more) with some of the largest, such as Lethocerus, exceeding 12 cm, and nearly reaching the dimensions (length and mass) of some of the larger beetles in the world. Giant water bugs are a popular food in Thailand.
Belostomatidae are fierce predators which stalk, capture and feed on aquatic crustaceans, fish and amphibians. They have also been found to capture and feed on baby turtles and water snakes. They often lie motionless at the bottom of a body of water, attached to various objects, where they wait for prey to come near. They then strike, injecting a powerful digestive saliva with their mandible, and sucking out the liquefied remains. Their bite is considered one of the most painful that can be inflicted by any insect (the Schmidt Sting Pain Index excludes insects other than Hymenoptera), however, though excruciatingly painful, it is of no medical significance. Adults cannot breathe under water, and must surface periodically for air. Occasionally when encountered by a larger predator, such as a human, they have been known to "play dead" and emit a fluid from their anus. Due to this they are assumed dead by humans only to later "come alive" with painful results.
Belostomatids show paternal care and the eggs of many species are laid on the male's wings and carried until they hatch. The male cannot mate during this period. The males invest considerable time and energy in reproduction and females take the role of actively finding males to mate. This role reversal matches the predictions of R. L. Trivers' parental investment theory.
In some areas belostomatids are considered a delicacy, and can be found for sale in markets. They are often collected for this purpose using large floating traps on ponds, set with black lights to attract the bugs. Adults fly at night, like many aquatic insects, and are attracted to lights during the breeding season.
In Asian cuisine
In various parts of southeast Asia, the species Lethocerus indicus is used as food, or as a source of extracts.
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