What's That Bug? does not endorse extermination

Subject: Sweet smelling water bug
Location: North and South Carolina
August 2, 2012 8:21 am
There is a water bug that skims across the surface of rivers that if you can catch one and smell it’s tummy it smells sweet like strawberries. Do you know what kind of bug this is or why it smells like that? It is tear shaped with tiny legs you can only see when it is flipped over. Also, they always seem to be in groups.
Signature: curios hiker

Whirligig Beetles

Dear curios hiker,
These are Whirligig Beetles in the family Gyrinidae.  We are very intrigued by your description of their smell.  We checked BugGuide‘s family page, but there is no mention of Whirligig Beetles smelling like strawberries, however, in the genus page for
Dineutus, one of four genera in the family recognized by BugGuide, we did find the statement:  “When disturbed, adults produce a defensive secretion that smells like apples.”  There is also mention that another common name is Apple Bug.  This is brand new information for us.  Even though we are quite familiar with Whirligig Beetles and collected them in our youth, we never noticed their odiferous character.  Whirligig Beetles are known for whirling about in circles on the surface of ponds, lakes, calm rivers and calm streams.  BugGuidealso notes that  they “can form rafts of immense numbers on lakes.”

Whirligig Beetle

Thank you!  This is definitely the same insect.  If you happen to come across them again I would suggest smelling their tummies.  Very carefully hold one between thumb and pointer finger and lift the underside to your nose.  Some do tend to give off a stronger scent than others.  Also, they tend to be more odoriferous he sooner you smell them after capture.  I still say they smell more like strawberries than apples.  Perhaps different versions smell different?  Thank you again for your response.  Have a great day!
curious hiker  (the misspelling was driving me crazy  lol)

We thought you were looking for curios in curio shops while hiking.

Lol, thanks for giving me more credit than I deserve.  But, no I just wasn’t paying attention to what I had typed. 🙂


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

7 Responses to Whirligig Beetles or Apple Bugs

  1. Cesar Crash says:

    Wow! So they smell like food as a defense to not get eaten!

  2. Sherry says:

    I have noticed the smell since childhood, but I always described it as fruit punch.

    I guess not many people sniff beetles.

    • bugman says:

      Hi Sherry,
      Though we were very familiar with Whirligig Beetles from a very young age, we must confess that we never smelled them. Next time we will make it a point to do so.

  3. Sherry says:

    I should note that my beetles were from Alabama. Maybe there are regional differences in whirligig fruit bouquet, lol.

  4. Acorn says:

    The ones in Kansas smell like Jolly Rancher Green Apple

  5. Geoff says:

    They smell like apples because they’re releasing cyanide (one compound in apples) we always describe the smell as “apple jacks” as there is also a cinnamon and oat smell along with the apple smell.
    The cyanide makes them taste bitter and unpleasant to predators

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