What's That Bug? does not endorse extermination

Giant winged bug attacks helpless family in KY!
OK, so I have a confession: This bug didn’t actually attack us, and we probably aren’t helpless. But it was giant! And winged! It terrified my daughters and I, as we had never seen this type of bug before. My husband swatted it down, but not before I could snap a couple of pics. They aren’t the best pics, but I really didn’t want to get too much closer. 😮 About the bug: It was resting on the window air conditioner above the sink in our kitchen. It had large mandibles and really long wings. It looked like a mean monstrous thing! Could you help me identify it, and tell me whether it bites, so that I can avoid panicking in the future (if it poses no threat to humans)? From looking at your site, I thought perhaps it might be an antlion? Thanks so much for any help!

Hi Heather,
Your fierce looking insect is a Dobsonfly. Dobsonflies and Antlions are in the same insect order, Neuroptera. This is a female Dobsonfly. She does have strong mandibles, and if she bites, she may pierce the skin, but she is basically harmless and does not have venom. Interestingly, the mandibles of the male Dobsonfly are even more frightening looking, but he is totally harmless. We should try to do some research on why, exactly, the male Dobsonfly has such unusual mandibles. We have long suspected it is related to the mating ritual, courtship, or perhaps the establishment of a dominant male. Dobsonflies do not eat as adults. Here is what BugGuide has to say: “The huge mandibles of the males are used to grasp the females during mating. The females, with much smaller jaws, can apparently bite more effectively. Although neither male nor female feed in the adult stage, they may use their mandibles for self-defense. “

Update: (06/15/2008) A heartfelt thank-you, and a rebuttal!
Hello again.
First, I’d like to thank you for identifying the female Dobsonfly photo (on 6-12-08) that I sent in. Second, I find myself compelled to comment on the e-mail that ‘Truly Candid Girl’ sent to you on 6-14-08 about “repeats”. I’d like to say that looking at several pics of the same bugs helps me to identify them. One pic cannot possibly show all the different sides, angles, sizes, and colors of a particular bug. I think “repeats” are necessary if you truly want to learn about a bug! And last, I LOVE your site! I have always been the type of girl that highly disliked bugs, and when I would see one, I’d say “Eww, bug!” and squash it if possible. Now, I’m not saying that I’ve fallen in love with bugs, but this site has evoked a curiosity in me. Every time I see a bug that I’m not familiar with, I want to know what it is, and I always come to this site. It’s a much better alternative to swatting, squishing, or running! Thank you so much for helping me to overcome my fear bit-by-bit, and keep up the good work!
Heather P

What's That Bug? does not endorse extermination

3 Responses to Female Dobsonfly

  1. Jerry Palmroos says:

    Thanks for posting this – great photo!

    I was raised in the country (upstate NY), and have never feared bugs.

    Yellow Jackets, yes. But all other bees, no. The Bumblebee is my favorite insect.
    Spiders, no (though I’ve come across 3-4 Black Widows over the years – lol – wasn’t scared, just very careful!).
    As such, any bug that comes near me, I will often try to get it to crawl on my arm, or at least set it on a stick to watch. Cicadas in particular are very amusing and beautiful creatures that don’t seem to be afraid of people. Dragonflies the same.

    So….one night a couple years back, I was on the porch, talking to a friend on the phone, when this giant insect came in and landed on the deck. It was dark, but I still decided to pick it up – not noticing the giant mandibles on this creature, still talking away with my friend. Then…..AHHHHHHHH! THAT $#!$er BIT ME!!!!! I immediately dropped it and squashed it with my shoe. Meanwhile, I had a deep, bleeding gash on the tip of my index finger.

    Wow, that was painful – imagine someone taking a pair of wire cutters and using them to cut a hole in your skin.

    Never could figure out what it was until today. Lesson for all: Do NOT handle female Dobsonflies – they WILL bite, and when they do, you WILL feel it, and you WILL bleed profusely.


    • bugman says:

      Thanks for your comment Jerry. We have always suspected the bite of a female Dobsonfly might be very painful, and that of a Hellgrammite as well. Though the male Dobsonfly looks quite fearsome, he is perfectly harmless.

  2. Shelley says:

    I was bit by a female on my back, holy crap!! It was so painful after about 15 mins I was achy in my back and neck and got so sick. Didn’t last long but the bite was painful to the touch for days!!!

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