What's That Bug? does not endorse extermination

Scary River Centipede
Location: Cahaba River, AL
December 13, 2010 12:45 am
Dear Bugman,
I looked through many pictures, but because I am scared of things with so many legs I felt sick. All I can do is ask, what kind of bug is this? I found it while swimming in the Cahaba River by my Grandmothers house near Birmingham, Alabama in July.
It was found inside the river and swam kind of fast…well, it squirmed through the water fast. The creature is four or five inches long. I was wondering if it might be what bit my foot while I was swimming the week before? The picture is what I got when I scooped it up with my cousin’s swim mask.
Signature: Grossed out Nursing Student


Dear Grossed out Nursing Student,
Though it looks very much like a Centipede, this Hellgrammite is actually an insect larva.  Imagine the winged adult male with saber-like mandibles an inch long, and you will have some idea of what the adult Dobsonfly looks like.  Hellgrammites can bite, and the bite might even draw blood, but the fierce looking creature is actually harmless.  Fishermen relish them as bait.  When he was researching his book, Daniel tried unsuccessfully to uncover the origin of the word Hellgrammite, but even without an origin, the name seems appropriate for this fascinating insect.

What's That Bug? does not endorse extermination
Location: Alabama

9 Responses to Hellgrammite

  1. Bennett says:

    I found one in molalla river oregon.

  2. Stephanie says:

    We were fishing with them and one of the guys with us thought he had a bite but when he got it on land the hellgrammite had a bluegill pinched right between its eyes, he walked around showing all the other fishers and the hellgrammite wouldn’t let go.

  3. Charles Jones II says:

    Found one under the rocks in the water in Stxy River Alabama of Co Rd 64. It was about 21/2 or 3 inches. I have been swimming in the river most of my life. I am almost 50. First one I ever saw. Took a bit to research and find out what it was. Nice to know they indicate whether water is polluted which is what I read on another bug site. Freaky lookin bug. Nice to know they are good for fishing…just think I may have a hard time finding enough. Thanks CJ

  4. Steve says:

    I’m 64 and as far back as I can remember my family gathered these for bait. The critter has skin tougher than shoe leather. Accordingly it’s not unusual to catch several fish on just 1. They were also referred to as rock lice. But regardless of the name..they are hands down one of ..if not the best .. bait in the stream.

  5. Mary says:

    They live under rocks along the South Branch of the Potomac in WV. The big ones are ugly and scary. They fly toward flourescent lamps in gas stations at night.

  6. Lisa Phillips says:

    They are also called eastern Dobson fly, they do bite if threatened, and it can hurt.

  7. We Put Our Faith In Blast Hardcheese says:

    I saw them a lot in Virginia Madison Heights/Monroe area, especially further up in the mountains. There it’s teeming with them, and they get massive. We used to fight them lol they were pretty aggressive. I just moved to Clayton, NC, and saw one got in the house, so I think I’ll he seeing more!

    I was surprised when nobody else I showed knew what it was.

    Also I learned I was taught wrong by that kid at camp (mountains, where it was teeming haha). He told me they were “Hellkemites” and another said “Hellgamites”.

    Most everyone there did call them Hellkemites though.

    I was confused when the search engine was like wtf is this?

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