Giant Water Bug vs Cockroach: A Battle of Bugs Unveiled

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Giant water bugs and cockroaches may appear similar at first glance, but there are key differences between these two fascinating insects. Understanding their unique characteristics can help identify and manage their presence in homes, gardens, or natural environments.

The giant water bug is a large predatory insect, reaching 2-3 inches in length and boasting one of the largest sizes among insects in North America and Minnesota. These bugs have a dark brown color, with banded raptorial legs adapted for catching prey. On the other hand, cockroaches are known for their presence in urban environments, with at least 69 species found in the United States. They are sometimes referred to as water bugs, croton bugs, and palmetto bugs, feeding on dead or dying plants and animals outdoors but considered pests when invading homes and gardens.

Comparing giant water bugs and cockroaches, giant water bugs are more adapted for aquatic environments, with flattened rear legs and tiny hairs (cilia) for propulsion in water. Meanwhile, cockroaches have a three-stage life cycle, including egg, nymph, and adult phases, and reproduce through egg capsules called oothecae. Some common cockroach species can reach a length of 1-1.25 inches, smaller than the giant water bug, and may display dark stripes on the thorax.

Giant Water Bug vs Cockroach: An Overview

Size and Appearance

  • Giant Water Bug: These large insects can grow up to 2-3 inches in length. They’re dark brown with banded raptorial legs, oval-shaped, and have pincer-like front appendages to capture prey.
  • Cockroach: Cockroaches are smaller than giant water bugs, with most species being around 1-1.5 inches long. They have a reddish-brown color and are also oval-shaped.

Here’s a comparison table to highlight the differences:

Feature Giant Water Bug Cockroach
Size 2-3 inches 1-1.5 inches
Color Dark brown Reddish-brown
Shape Oval, with pincer-like front appendages Oval
Legs Banded raptorial legs for capturing prey Normal legs

Habitat and Behavior

  • Giant Water Bug: They are aquatic predators found in freshwater habitats, such as ponds, streams, and marshes. They use their rear legs to swim and rely on their pincers to catch prey, which includes insects, tadpoles, and even small fish.
  • Cockroach: These insects are primarily terrestrial and often found in urban environments. They typically prefer warm, dark, and moist habitats, like kitchens, bathrooms, and basements. Cockroaches are scavengers, feeding on a variety of organic matter, including food scraps, dead plants, and animals.

A quick comparison of their behavioral traits:

  • Giant Water Bugs
    • Aquatic predators
    • Found in freshwater habitats
    • Capture prey with pincer-like front appendages
  • Cockroaches
    • Terrestrial scavengers
    • Found in urban environments
    • Seek dark, warm, and moist habitats

Cockroach Identification and Species

American Cockroach

The American Cockroach is the largest of the three species, with adults reaching about 1.5 inches in length. They are reddish-brown and have fully developed wings, enabling them to fly short distances.

  • Size: 1.5 inches
  • Color: Reddish-brown
  • Wings: Fully developed

Oriental Cockroach

Oriental Cockroaches are smaller in comparison, measuring around 1 inch in length. These do not have developed wings and, therefore, cannot fly. They have a shiny, dark brown or black color with shorter, almost non-functional antennae.

  • Size: 1 inch
  • Color: Dark brown or black
  • Wings: None

German Cockroach

Measuring just around 1/2 inch when fully grown, the German Cockroach is the smallest of the three. These light brown insects have a pair of parallel brown bars between their head and front of the wings, making them easy to identify. Adult German Cockroaches have wings, but they rarely fly.

  • Size: 1/2 inch
  • Color: Light brown
  • Wings: Rarely used
Feature American Cockroach Oriental Cockroach German Cockroach
Size 1.5 inches 1 inch 1/2 inch
Color Reddish-brown Dark brown or black Light brown
Wings Fully developed None Rarely used

Each cockroach species has its distinct characteristics, which help with identification. These three species vary in size, coloring, and wing development, which can be vital information for pest control and management.

Giant Water Bug Identification and Species

Electric Light Bug

The Electric Light Bug, a species of giant water bug, can be found in North America and is known for its attraction to electric lights. They are classified within the order Hemiptera and the family Belostomatidae. Some key features of Electric Light Bugs include:

  • Brownish color
  • Length up to 2-3 inches
  • Piercing-sucking mouthparts


The family Belostomatidae consists of a group of aquatic insects called giant water bugs. They are part of the order Hemiptera, which contains true bugs. Some distinctive characteristics of Belostomatidae include:

  • Oval-shaped body
  • Pincer-like front appendages
  • Flattened rear legs with tiny hairs

Giant water bugs in the family Belostomatidae can also exceed 12 cm (4.5 inches) in size, making them one of the largest insects in North America.

Toe Biter

The Toe Biter, another species of giant water bug, is found in the family Belostomatidae. It is known for its painful bite that can feel like a bee sting. Here are some features of a Toe Biter:

  • Size up to 8 cm
  • Snorkel-like breathing tube
  • Front legs with modified hooks

Comparison Table

Feature Electric Light Bug Toe Biter
Size Up to 2-3 inches Up to 8 cm
Attraction to Light Yes No
Painful Bite No Yes
Breathing Apparatus No Snorkel-like

In conclusion, giant water bugs, including the Electric Light Bug and Toe Biter, belong to the order Hemiptera and family Belostomatidae, and they possess unique characteristics that differentiate them from other insects.

Infestations: Identifying and Preventing

Signs of a Cockroach Infestation

Cockroaches are common household pests that can cause problems for homeowners. Some signs you may have a cockroach infestation include:

  • Egg cases: Also known as oothecae, cockroach egg cases can be found in damp areas like basements and drains.
  • Foul odor: A musty, unpleasant smell may be present when you have a cockroach infestation.

Additionally, cockroaches have several characteristics that can help with bug identification:

Signs of a Giant Water Bug Infestation

Giant water bugs are less common household pests, but they can still cause issues. Here are some signs of a giant water bug infestation:

Prevention Tips

To prevent both cockroach and giant water bug infestations, homeowners can take the following steps:

  • Control moisture: Reduce standing water and dampness in and around your home.
  • Seal cracks: Caulk and seal any cracks or gaps found in walls, doors, or windows.

Comparison Table: Cockroach vs Giant Water Bug Infestations

  Cockroach Giant Water Bug
Habitat Sewer drains, basements, dark and damp areas Water sources, damp areas
Size Up to 3 inches long Up to 2-3 inches long
Odor Foul smell when infested No specific odor
Prevention Control moisture, seal cracks Control moisture, remove water sources

Bug Control Recommendation Tool

What type of pest are you dealing with?

How severe is the infestation?

Do you require child/pet/garden safe treatments (organic)?

Are you willing to monitor and maintain the treatment yourself?

Feeding and Diet

Cockroach Food Sources

Cockroaches are infamous for being scavengers, feeding on a wide variety of materials. Their diet includes:

  • Starch: Cockroaches are known to consume starchy foods like bread and cereal.
  • Sugar: Sweet foods like fruit and candy can attract these pests.
  • Decaying matter: They often feed on rotting organic materials, including plants and meat.

Cockroaches have been found to carry faecal coliforms in their feces, posing a potential risk of spreading illness.

Giant Water Bug Prey

Giant water bugs, on the other hand, are predatory insects. Their diet mainly consists of:

  • Small fish: They use their pincer-like front legs to capture fish in the water.
  • Tadpoles: They prey upon various amphibian larvae.
  • Aquatic insects: They also target other insects like water beetles and mosquito larvae.

Giant water bugs can grow up to 2-3 inches in length, making them one of the largest insects in North America.

Feature Cockroach Giant Water Bug
Diet Scavengers (starch, sugar, decaying matter) Predators (small fish, tadpoles, aquatic insects)
Feeding behavior Feeds on a wide variety of materials Actively hunts and captures prey
Size Smaller, typically up to 2 inches long Larger, 2-3 inches long
Location Urban and household environments Aquatic environments, like ponds and streams

Overall, cockroaches and giant water bugs have distinct differences in their feeding habits and diets. While cockroaches are scavengers consuming a broad range of food, giant water bugs are predators feeding on smaller aquatic creatures.

Dangers and Health Risks

Cockroach-Derived Health Concerns

Cockroaches are known carriers of food-borne pathogens and can spread diseases due to their habit of living in unhygienic environments. They can potentially cause:

  • 600 million illness episodes annually 1
  • 420,000 deaths 1

Moreover, their gut microbiomes contain various bacterial clades posing health risks 2.

Giant Water Bug Bites

Giant water bugs, on the other hand, are large predatory insects with pincer-like front appendages 3. Their bites can be painful, but they are generally not harmful to humans.

Comparison Table

Feature Cockroach Giant Water Bug
Size Generally smaller Up to 2-3 inches in length 4
Health Risks Carrier of food-borne pathogens None, except painful bites
Environment Unhygienic areas Aquatic habitats
Impact on Human Health Spreading pathogens, diseases Physically painful bites


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Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Toe-Biter


4″ long big eyed bug in my flower garden
April 1, 2010
First I’d like to say thank you for providing this website. It gives very descriptive information on a wide variety of bugs from all over the world. Out of the 10-15 sites I visited this one is the best by far.
I live in Southern Ontario, Canada, in a rural area that is damp due to the numerous ponds located on my 170 acre property. It is springtime here and it is a warm sunny day with a temperature of 21degrees celsius.
I was pulling grass and weeds from my flower garden in front of my house and found this interesting bug hiding between a garden ornament and a rock. I gently pulled it out with my garden shovel and placed it on top of the rock in the sunlight so I could take a picture. It didn’t seem to like the sunlight or perhaps it was the warmth of the rock I put it on. It kept trying to crawl back to a dark and cooler place and it didn’t move too quickly. The body of this bug is 3″ long and 1″ wide with large black eyeballs and a flat profile. It’s body looks hard (I didn’t touch it with my hand) and is dark grey in colour with a black tear drop shaped marking near it’s tail end. I noticed a reddish spot on the tear drop shape but it almost looks like a scrape instead of a marking. It has two 2″ long, large legs at the front, stemming from under it’s head, that look claw-like. It also has four other legs which have thick fur on them. The two front legs each have one pointed cl aw at the end and the back four legs each have two claws at their end. They remind me of the toenails on a cat. Not sure if it has wings but it certainly looks as if it does because it’s upper body has a line down the center as if it could separate.
I’ve looked around your website but haven’t found this particular bug (unless I skipped a page) and I would greatly appreciate it if you could help me to identify it. I’ve attached two photos.
Thank you very much for your time.
Mrs. MJ Timmerman
(Southern Ontario) 30 kms North of Kingston, Ontario Canada

Giant Water Bug

Dear Mrs. Timmerman,
Your description in the subject line was so perfect, we actually identified your insect before even opening your letter.  We receive countless requests for the identification of your insect, the Giant Water Bug, also called a Toe-Biter or Electric Light Bug, and we have tagged it Top Ten.  This aquatic species is capable of flight, and it is often encountered far from a water source.  The common name Toe-Biter is due to the number of swimmers in lakes and ponds who are bitten on the toe when accidentally stepping on a Giant Water Bug.  The bite is reported to be quite painful, though we rarely get a report of a person actually being bitten.  We do caution our readership that though they are not aggressive, they should be handled with care.

Letter 2 – Toe-Biter


Pennsylvania beast
Location: Southwestern PA, USA rural setting, open fields and woods.
June 4, 2011 7:36 am
Tis insect was found early June, 2011, in southwestern PA. Two inches in length
Signature: Karen


Hi Karen,
This Giant Water Bug in the genus
Leptoglossus is also known as an Electric Light Bug and as a Toe-Biter.  The alarming name Toe-Biter is somewhat offputting, and though it presents a distinct possibility, it should probably be clarified.  Giant Water Bugs might bite a person if they are carelessly handled, and the bite is reported to be quite painful, but we rarely if ever get reports of anyone being bitten by the notorious Toe-Biter despite it being one of our Top 10 identification requests.  It is believed that the common name Toe-Biter originated with bites reported by children while swimming in freshwater ponds.  If stepped on in shallow water, it is almost a certainty that a Toe-Biter will live up to its name.  In preparation for our staff taking a holiday the second week in June, we are preparing this posting to go live to our site on June 12.

Letter 3 – Toe-Biter


Big Scary Beetle!!
Location: Minnesota
August 6, 2011 8:04 am
We were out looking at a car last night, and saw this big ugly bug on the lot. It flies. And has freakishly large pincers/legs. WHAT IS THIS THING??
Signature: Austen


Hi Austen,
We hope you picked out a nice fuel efficient vehicle.  This is not a Beetle.  It is a Giant Water Bug, a True Bug.  As its name implies, it is an aquatic species, and we are surprised that you have not encountered one before since you live in the “land of a 10,000 lakes” which we suspect is prime habitat for this large predator.  Giant Water Bugs are also excellent fliers, and they are attracted to strong lights.  Often great numbers congregate in well lighted parking lots and at nighttime sporting events, owing to another common name, Electric Light Bug.  Our favorite common name, Toe-Biter, is attributed to the their habit of biting unwary swimmers, especially in ponds and lakes.  The bite of a Toe-Biter is reported to be quite painful.  Though they are not a venomous species, they inject enzymes for the digestion of prey when they bite that causes pain and swelling.  They are not blood suckers, and they only bite humans out of defense.  Their typical prey includes aquatic insects, tadpoles and small fish which they capture with their raptorial forelegs.

Letter 4 – Toe-Biter


Large brown beetle or bug of sorts
Location: Regina, Saskatchewan
October 6, 2011 1:45 pm
Hello my name is Austin and my girlfriend found this insect in a childrens play structure at work.
Signature: Austin Asmundson


Dear Austin,
We have received numerous recent identification requests for Toe-Biters, also known as Giant Water Bugs or Electric Light Bugs.

Letter 5 – Toe-Biter


I would love to know what this is.
Location: South Louisiana
December 18, 2010 4:47 pm
Hi there,
I found this odd looking bug underneath my carport one night. We had our large outdoor florescent light on and it was just sitting on the concrete. I’ve seen this bug once or twice before, but not very often. It just looks weird! I’m not sure if it’s a type of beetle, or related to the large flying stinkbugs that we have here in South Louisiana.
Signature: Bugged in Cajun Country


Dear Bugged,
This is a Giant Water Bug or Toe-Biter, so named because of the painful bite received by so many swimmers in freshwater ponds and lakes where this large predator prowls for aquatic insects as well as tadpoles and small fish.  Another common name for the Giant Water Bug is Electric Light Bug because it is commonly attracted to lights while flying from pond to pond.  Though it is quite streamlined in both the water and the air, it is awkward on land.

Letter 6 – Toe-Biter


what the heck is this??
Location: Aransas Pass, Texas
May 4, 2011 11:28 pm
hey i found this bug outside the local Whataburger. I live in Aransas Pass, Texas and the Whataburger is next to a field which gets flooded when it rains (not sure if it was wet at the time but just thought i’d add that in there)
i’ve seen a few of these but only on sidewalks and in the parkinglot of Whataburger.
Signature: Thanks, Tye

Giant Water Bug

Hi Tye,
This is a Giant Water Bug, the largest True Bug in North America.  It is commonly called a Toe-Biter and it is a aquatic predator.  Like all True Bugs, it has piercing and sucking mouthparts that it uses to suck the fluids from its prey, generally small aquatic insects, small fish and tadpoles.  They can bite humans if they are mishandled or accidentally contacted in the water, and many a person has been bitten while playing in ponds and lakes, hence the common name Toe-Biter.  Giant Water Bugs fly quite well and they are also attracted to electric lights.  For that reason they are also commonly called Electric Light Bugs.  We imagine that Whataburger has bright lights in the parking lot.  That along with the flooded field probably explains its appearance.  Toe-Biters, because of their large size and unusual appearance, are one of our most common identification requests.

Letter 7 – Toe Biter in Ocean


Bug found at the beach
Found this guy today laying on his back at Crane Beach in Massachusetts. We turned him the right way, but the tide kept coming in and turning him on his back. Sorry I couldn’t get a better picture. It looked strange to me seeing this bug in the ocean, but maybe it isn’t so strange? Thanks!

This isn’t the first report we have gotten of Toe Biters or Giant Water Bugs being found in the ocean. They are aquatic, and might be at home in salt water, or perhaps they accidentally found themselves in the sea. At any rate, Giant Water Bugs are found throughout the world and will bite painfully if mishandled.

Letter 8 – Toe-Biter


Big Bug in Pennsylvania
This big bug (about 2.5 in ) was in our garage in Western Pennsylvania. We found it in the evening on March 30th after a warm day. We looked at several websites to identify it but couldn’t match it exactly. It looks like the body of a roach but the upper part seems to have pinchers more like a boring beetle. Please help if you can.

Hi Travis,
What a great photo of a Toe-Biter, or Giant Water Bug. They are aquatic, but also fly. They are attracted to lights and are sometimes called Electric Light Bugs, which could explain how it was drawn to your garage.

Letter 9 – Toe-Biter


Help…WHAT is this bug?
Location:  Canton, Michigan
August 19, 2010 7:43 am
Found crawling in our parking lot, nearby woods – overall size was just over 2”.
Totally freaked out several of us.


Dear Ewwie,
This Giant Water Bug is also called a Toe-Biter.

Letter 10 – Toe Biter with Mites


whats that bug on my bug
This is by far my favorite web site! I have a giant ferocious water-bug in a 10 gallon tank, just as you had suggested to that lady 2 months ago. He is more fascinating than any bug I have ever had…my Potato bug used to eat crickets like they were cheeseburgers. Anyway, there are half a pin head size, red bugs starting to multiply on his back, though they do not look like the photo of eggs you have and it has taken 2 months for the one we could barely see swimming around in the tank to securely attach itself to our bug and multiply into about 12. Any guesses? I will try to get a macro photo of them, but here is one of my favorites…

Hi Tom,
Thanks for your nice letter. Your Toe Biter sounds like it might be carrying mites around.

Mites on the toe-biter?
Hi Daniel and Lisa Ann,
About the email on the Toe Biter from Tom on (01/27/2007) who talks about having 12 red mites on his Toe Biter? I remember seeing mites on aquatic insects, looking suspicious, and so I looked it up, and it turns out that *all* of the more than 5,000 known species of aquatic mites (Hydracarina) are partly parasitic. When they are larvae, aquatic mites are parasitic on aquatic insects, but as adults the mites become free-swimming and predatory. Winged aquatic insects, such as the toe biters, fly around of course, and that way the mites are spread from one body of water to another. You can read a lot more interesting stuff about them at:
And at :
Best to you as always,
Susan J. Hewitt

Letter 11 – Toe-Biter


Giant water bug
This little dude (or dudette) scared the stuffing out of me! It was in out pool near Waco TX. Enjoy!
J Clark

Hi J,
Thanks for sending in a great image of a Giant Water Bug, aka Toe-Biter or Electric Light Bug. Lethocerus americanus has earned all its common names.

Letter 12 – Toe-Biter


Toe Biter
Found this bug a couple of days ago when taking a rescue dog out to potty. She saw it and when she tried to sniff it, It took a hit at her nose. Fortunately she has good reflexes and avoided a bite. The picture shows the bug (inside a jar) on a rotary mat, each square constitutes one square inch. I figured this would give good scale on the size of this big beast. My kids wouldnt even let the bug sleep in the house and everyone was hung up on, “what the heck is it?” After i figured it out, I made a printout of the info on it and considering its the largest true bug in the continental united states, figured it would be a good one for my 11 year old son to take with him to school. Unfortunately it proved to be too much stress on the bug and she died while at school. Thought the clarity of the picture made this one worth sending in.
May Cross
Alanson MI
Ps. The kids at school named the bug Mr. Snickers.

Hi May,
Sorry to hear of Mr. Snickers demise, but any child will tell you that school can be a very stressful place. Do you quilt?

Letter 13 – Toe Biter in Pool


Giant water bug attack in my pool
Hey Bugman,
I know you received plenty of these photos, but the stories on your site are great. This bug was in my swimming pool in Austin, TX. I was swimming laps and was taking a breather when this thing came at me. I tried to splash it away while backing up and it just kept coming. It chased me out of the pool! I must admit, he is the ugliest, scariest bug I’ve ever seen.
Doug in Austin

Hi Doug,
We do try to post the most interesting stories and yours is pretty great. Thanks for the anecdote.

Letter 14 – Toe Biter


I got a water scorpion pic for you
My name Is Maranda and a few nights ago I was at work and someone brought to my attention that there was a huge bug on the wall outside our building. I had never seen anything like it so I captured it. I took some pics of it but could not find out what it was, finally after lots of searching online I found out it was a water scorpion. I came across this site and saw that you liked pics of them so I thought i’d send you mine. I also have a question though, are they common to find in michigan? I read they were from Germany. And also I stilll have him captive, what should I do with him?
p.s. I read that they use thier tails for snorkeling in water, but his is broken off, is this a problem for him?

Hi Maranda,
This isn’t a Water Scorpion, but another aquatic Hemipteran, the Giant Water Bug or Toe-Biter. They are common in Michigan.

Letter 15 – Toe Biter


What’s this bug???
I am a pilot with Canadian Helicopters in Moosonee, Ontario, on the coast of James Bay. This is a beetle/bug/creature that regularly visits us is quite menacing-looking. Do you know what it is? Does it bite? Enquiring minds want to know 🙂 Thanks
Walter Heneghan
Moosonee, Ontario, Canada

Hi Walter,
Luckily you didn’t use your foot for scale or the Giant Water Bug, also known as a Toe-Biter, may have taken a chomp. These aquatic True Bugs also fly very well.

Letter 16 – Toe Biter


big roach?
Hi Folks,
Found this bug near the local rec centre, assuming its a roach, just wanted verification on that, any idea of the species?

Hi Andrew,
We just love getting new photos of Giant Water Bugs, also known as Toe-Biters (a well deserved name) as well as Electric Light Bugs because they are often attracted to lights at night, often in great numbers. This is the largest true bug in the continental U.S. and it is equally at home in water or air, though it is somewhat clumsy on the ground.

Letter 17 – Toe-Biter


whats this bug?
Hi there, great idea for a site… Glad I found it because I’m curious what this bug is. Earlier in the year I was outside a coffee shop talking to some friends here in South-Eastern Ontario, and I heard some wierd buzzing behind me. I looked to see what it was, and sitting in the middle of the parking lot was this…uhm….thing (see attached photos). It was huge, I don’t think I’ve seen an insect this big in my life (outside of a zoo anyways). It was about 3 inches long, and an inch or so wide. I placed a coffee cup beside it for size reference (2nd photo). It tried several times to fly away, but it was injured and only made it a few feet. If you could identify it, I’d like to know more. Is it native to this area?
Brian Graves

Hi Brian,
We always love getting new photos of Giant Water Bugs, also known, deservedly, as Toe-Biters. They range across the North American Continent, and have relatives worldwide. A Thai species is about twice the size. Toe-Biters are the largest American True Bugs, and are larger than our largest Beetles. They are equally at home in the air or water. Yours is a Lethocerus species.

Well geez, its a pretty common thing then… I’ve just never seen one before, at least if I have it wasn’t anywhere near this big. Thanks for the info and the quick reply and keep up the work with the great website!

Letter 18 – Toe-Biter


Heat Bug? Strange and Irritating Bug
Hi! I just moved to a region, where in summertime, the air is infiltrated by an extremely loud, buzzing, almost electrical sound. I’ve been told it is called the Heat Bug, as it only comes out in the summer and creates its din on very warm days. I have included photos of what the locals claim to be the insect responsible for this racket!
Hope you can identify it!

Dear Jordan,
Your awesome photos are of a Giant Water Bug, Lethocerus americanus, which also goes by the colorful names Electric Light Bug and Toe-Biter. These are aquatic insects which can also fly, and they can deliver a painful bite. They are also the largest True Bugs in North America. They do not make loud noises. I have never heard the name Heat Bug, but I am guessing by your description, that they are probably cicadas. Cicadas make a noise similar to that which you describe. Additionally, this year marks the return of Brood X of the Periodical Cicada or 17 Year Locust which will be appearing in great numbers and making quite a bit of racket. Sadly, Jordan, your letter was one of the last to get through before heavy traffic shut us down, or I would direct you to our cicada page to see photos of what I am guessing are your Heat Bugs. Our site will return in June.

Thank you for such a timely and informative reply! To imagine that I got siting of one of the Biggest Bugs in N.America! Unfortunately, this letter may not reach you until later, however, I do hope to return to your e-page soon. Thanks again and good luck with Brood X Studies.

Letter 19 – Toe-Biter


who am I
I found this guy walking across the softball field where I was umpireing in minneapolis tell me is it dangerous or should I let him go? Thanks

Hi Dan,
This is a Giant Water Bug, also called a Toe-Biter, because they are known to bite the toes and other body parts of unwary swimmers and waders, or Electric Light Bugs, because they are attracted to electric lights at night. Because we cannot imagine that your softball game was in a marsh, we are guessing it was a night game and this Giant Water Bug was attracted to the strong night lights on the field. Our big curiousity remains though, however do you find the time to work on quilting while umpiring a game? Or perhaps, a quilter’s Omnigrid serves some other purpose during a softball game? Though the bite of a Toe-Biter is quite painful, they are not dangerous to humans.

Letter 20 – Toe-Biter


Do you know what this bug is???
Here’s a challenge for you. We live in Ontario, Canada and have a cottage NE of Kingston. Do you know what this bug is? It’s quite large. Thanks for any help you can provide.

If you really want to challenge us, don’t send one of the top 5 query subjects we receive. Toe-Biters, like your specimen, along with House Centipedes, Potato Bugs, Hummingbird Moths and Dobsonflies, represent a significant percentage of our identification requests. Toe-Biters are also known as Giant Water Bugs and Electric Light Bugs.

Wow! Did we know where to go to get an expert opinion!!! Thank you so much. Believe it or not, we’ve been going to the cottage on Beaver Lake since 1958 and NOBODY has seen this bug until last year when we found it in the eavestrough near the night light. Coincidentally another friend who has a cottage in the Muskoka region came across one recently and he asked us what it was. To make a long story short, we searched the web for quite some time unsuccessfully until a google search led us to you. Since your email we’ve learned quite a bit about this Giant Water Bug and a healthy respect for it as well. Thanks again for your help!

Letter 21 – Toe-Biter


Low Priority: additional Giant Water Bug pics
Hi there, thank you for your site! Very nice! I don’t need help identifying this fellow having recently learned what it is, but I thought I’d pass along a couple of pics. (Don’t feel obligated to respond, seeing as I know what it is and you have loads of pics already, but you certainly may if you wish.) I was quite comfortably holding this critter well before learning about the painful bite it could have inflicted. (Phew, lucky me.) Finding it rather docile, and not seeing any scary looking mandible-type parts, I thought it’d be pretty safe to pick up and look over. It was actually just “hanging out” on my sweater as I was searching info. online. I liked the big, praying mantis-like eyes and strong front arms. Very neat. I found it, like in another post I read – in a WalMart parking lot – at night, in Napanee, Ontario, Canada.
Sandra Reid

Hi Sandra,
How could we help but to post your submission. It has all the necessary qualities. It is polite, informative, personal, and has an awesome image. Thanks for sending it our way.

Letter 22 – Toe-Biter


what is this bug?
Please tell me what this beetle is. Found it here in Saratoga New York.
Douglas Correll

Hi Douglas,
This is a Toe-Biter or Giant Water Bug or Electric Light Bug. We get countless requests for identifications of this species and its close relatives from around the world. We always have a photo of a Toe-Biter on our homepage to help address the volume of inquiries. Your photo will be that photo until we post a new letter and image.

Letter 23 – Toe Biter in a Chocolate Factory


Yuck BIG bug!
Dear Bugman,
Our two chocolate labs made a new playmate lastnight with this huge bug. It’s roughly 3 inches long and the biggest bug I’ve seen outside of a zoo. We live on a farm near Kalamzoo, MI. Is this bug from our area? If so, what kind of bug is it?

Hi Annette,
I hope none of you late night chocolate factory workers were running around in open-toe shoes. That might have been a bit too tempting for this Toe Biter or Giant Water Bug.

Letter 24 – Toe Biter


Whats this bug?
It flies, and has enormous eyes. Can you tell me what this? I have never seen it around here before

Hi Joel,
The Toe Biter or Giant Water Bug is one of the most common query subjects to be submitted to our site for identification. We have numerous images and much information on two dedicated pages.

Letter 25 – Toe Biter in Angola


Friends for breakfast
These are some pictures of some bugs that came in to visit for breakfast the other morning. Any idea of the correct name? I would think that it is some part of the beetle family as many of the critters over here are. It is coming up on time for the invasion of the Bombardier Beetles, or “Acid Bugs” as we call them, due to the serious burns they inflict. Happy hunting!Regards,
Kearney R. Walters
Malongo, Cabinda, Angola

Hi Kearney,
Giant Water Bugs, or Toe Biters as they are called in the U.S., are not beetles, but true bugs. They are aquatic predators that also fly quite well. They will bite if provoked, so those gloves were a smart idea.

Letter 26 – Toe-Biter


We found this one morning on our porch in Mt. Pleasant, SC. What IS this thing? I’ve browsed your site fairly thoroughly, and still haven’t a clue. Our cat was trying to play with it, but I think it possible it might have eaten her instead.

Dear M.D.
Some letters we receive are full of praise at how easy our site is to navigate, and others, like yours, claim difficulty identifying creatures that we specifically target for easy location. On the top of our homepage is a paragraph (which requires reading) that mentions several creatures that are common query subjects and contains links to those pages. One is the Giant Water Bug or Toe-Biter, the subject of your photograph. Additionally, certain creatures always have a presence on our homepage, and once again, the Toe-Biter is one of them. Scrolling down the homepage will reveal a photograph that was submitted several weeks ago.

Letter 27 – Toe-Biter


What in the World?
This nasty looking thing showed up on our back porch in Pearland, Texas (actually flew in). We have not been able to figure out what in the world it is. We just moved to this area and have never seen anything like it. Any idea what it is and if it is dangerous? I appreciate any info you can give me.Thank you,

Hi Angie,
Giant Water Bugs are commonly called Toe-Biters, and they will bite. The bite is painful, but they are not dangerous.

Letter 28 – Toe-Biter


What is this bug?
This was in one of the tires around our dock in northern minnesota. You can see the dock pole–which is about as big as chain link fence post–in the picture to give you an idea of the size.
Rusty in MN

Hi Rusty,
In summers past, we have gotten daily requests for Toe-Biter identifications. This summer, there is a noticeable shortage of letters with images of Toe-Biter. This summer is the summer of the Cicada Killer and logically, the Cicada. Toe-Biters are Giant Water Bugs and are also known as Electric Light Bugs. Lethocerus americanus is aquatic, but also a very adept flier. As the common name implies, it can give a painful bite to the unwary swimmer. They are aquatic predators.

Letter 29 – Toe Biters


Hi, this is Jay again on my home address.. I was
asking you about the bug that looks like the Water scorpion but not quite.. well, since I saw it I kept
my digital camera in my car in case I came across it again, well the other night I saw his little brother I
think.. that looked like a smaller version of the big
guy I saw.. I found him on his back kicking his legs and snapped this picture.. Looks like a water scorpion without the breathing tube? I can’t say for sure this is what I saw the other night.. it’s similar in shape.. This guy was about 2.5 inches in length.. the other one was literally 5 inches. So tell me what you think…

Thanks Jay,
It is a Giant Water Bug, Lethocerus americanus, and we have been getting numerous reports about them, especially the south, more specifically Florida. They will bite painfully, and swimmers call them “toe Biters.”

Letter 30 – Toe Biters


My wife is a native to Florida and has in the last few years noticed a bug/beetle that she has never seen before. It always seems to hang around the same small bushes that one of our local restaurants have and the only other place she has seen it is at work where they have the same type of bush.
It is completely black, around two and a half inches in length, about half an inch wide and has large pinches on the front of it’s head and it also flies.
We would both appreciate it very much if you could tell us what this bug is as, we have looked on many websites and have never found it listed.
Thanks in advance,
Robert & Laura Kitchener

Dear Robert and Laura,
It sounds like a stag beetle. We have been getting reports and sitings lately.

Thanks but that is not it. The bug I mean doesn’t have such a hard shell and has similar dimensions of a palmetto bug, but larger, with claws and a bit different in color. We are going to try to get a picture of one for ya (If we can stand around it that long, ha, ha)? Thanks for all your help!

Please send that photo. Meanwhile, I’m guessing a Giant Water Bug (Lethocerus americanus). The Giant Water Bug is a true bug, a member of the order Heteroptera. They have sucking mouthparts. At nearly three inches in length, they are among the largest insects in the continental United States. The mature insects are strong fliers and because of their streamlined, keel shaped bodies, are equally comfortable in the air or in water. The adults have a variety of common names including Toe Biters and Electric Light Bugs. Any swimmer who has ever been bitten would attest to the origin of the name Toe Biter, since the bite is extremely painful. The Giant Water Bug is a ferocious hunter which uses its front claws to grasp its prey which can include small fish as well as tadpoles and water insects. Huge swarms appear periodically in brightly lit parking lots in the South. An even larger relative in South East Asia reaches five inches in length and is prized as a delicacy in Thailand. A recent news story covers a veritable invasion of Giant Water Bugs in New Port Richie, Florida that terrified the local population. Here is an image.

Thanks for the info I think that is the right bug. At first glance of the water bug out of the water, the ‘claws’ didn’t seem to stand out. Everytime I have seen this bug, it looked as if it had ‘claws’ so I wasn’t sure until I saw the PIC attached. This looks like the bug on land as well as in water. Thanks for finally settling our minds and we wont be touching one anytime soon !!!

Letter 31 – Toe Biters


Another photo just for fun.

Letter 32 – Toe-Biter


Amphibian bug
Sat, Oct 25, 2008 at 12:09 PM
Hi Whats that bug team , This afternoon my husband was cleaning out the pool and found this thing crawling out of it . Its huge and its mean looking , It has to weird thing coming out of its behind whenit gets aggrevated, we’ve never seen anything like this . I hope u can help us figure out whats that bug .
Sorry if the pictures are a bit blurry .
Stevens familly
Saint-constant, Quebec ,Canada

Giant Water Bug
Giant Water Bug

Hi Stevens Family,
The tenant in your pool is a Giant Water Bug or Toe-Biter.  Though it is aquatic, it can also fly and is attracted to lights, hence the common name Electric Light Bug.  The weird thing coming from its behind is a snorkel-like breathing device.

Letter 33 – Toe-Biter


flying bug, big eyes, scary face
Tue, Mar 17, 2009 at 6:58 PM
i was outside, in michigan, today, st pattys day, saw what i thought was a bat… swooping under the streetlight. this bug flew to the ground, and i captured it. large back and wings, 6 legs, including 2 arm looking ones in the front. looks like a stinger in front of its face, below its mouth. 2 huge black eyes. very scary looking. please help. its still alive, captured.
included is a picture of it next to a pack of cigarettes so you can get an idea of the size.
thanks for helping!
davison, michigan


Though we have no shortage of Giant Water Bug or Toe-Biter images on our site, your vivid description is a welcome addition to our archives.  Thanks for the great letter.

Letter 34 – Toe-Biter


Large unidentified beetle
Thu, Apr 2, 2009 at 4:58 PM
Please help me identify this insect. I was standing on my porch @ 8 oclock pm when I heard what I thought was a small bird fly past my head and land on my screen door.It is aprox. 2 inches long see attached picture.Sorry for the poor quality pics.Thank you
Insect Identification
Jackson ,NJ 08527


People often mistake the Toe-Biter for a beetle, but the Electric Light Bug or Giant Water Bug is actually an aquatic True Bug.

Letter 35 – Toe-Biter


Bug or beetle
Thu, Apr 16, 2009 at 7:18 PM
April 16, 2009 at 10:15 p.m. on our back porch. It was pulsating as we watched it. It was about three inches (3″) long.
Southeast of Peterborough, Ontario, Canada


Hi Jill,
We never tire of posting photos of Toe-Biters which are true bugs, not beetles.

Letter 36 – Toe-Biter


Mon, Apr 27, 2009 at 9:08 PM
This fat sucker landed on my screen with a WHACK. It sounded like a Junebug – but a little big and more aggressive-looking.
Note that it looks like it only has 2 sets of legs on it’s thorax, and pincers coming out of it’s head… of course I wasn’t getting too close.
It flies!
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada – April 27th @ 9pm or so. It was really hot today (27C) – unsually hot for the season.
Please tell me about this lovely new neighbour.
Ottawa has banned chemical pesticides this year, so I assume I will be seeing a few new creatures around.
Any info would be interesting to have. Many thanks!
Jo in Ottawa
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Giant Water Bug
Giant Water Bug

Hi Jo,
Thanks for the awesome news that Ottawa has banned pesticides this year, though we wonder the extent of the banning.  We presume homemakers can still purchase aerosol insecticides, but maybe not.  You are lucky that your first encounter with a Giant Water Bug (yes it swims too) was at your screen door where it lived up to its other common name of Electric Light Bug.  The common name Toe-Biter stems from hapless swimmers encountering the Giant Water Bug and experiencing its piercing bite.  Giant Water Bugs do not habitually bite people, but the occasional encounter and the pain of the bite has led to that colorful appellation.  Interestingly, Giant Water Bugs are eaten in Thailand.

Letter 37 – Toe-Biter


Huge bug in Florida
July 21, 2009
We found this huge bug with wings and large jaws in our pool. It was almost four inches long. I carefully scooped it out of the pool and placed it in the grass, only to have my crazy weiner dog take a huge bite out of it! We felt really horrible being that the bug was so unique! What kind of bug is this?
Bug lovers in Florida
Gainesville, Florida


Dear Bug Lovers,
This is a Giant Water Bug, commonly called a Toe-Biter.  They are not aggressive towards humans, but they will deliver a painful bite if handled carelessly.  Toe-Biters are aggressive predators, and no small water creature is safe, be it fish, tadpole or insect.  In Thailand, Giant Water Bugs are eaten as a delicacy, and we are quite certain your pet found it to be quite toothsome.  Giant Water Bugs are not rare.  They actually are among our most frequent identification requests, along with House Centipedes, Potato Bugs, Boxelder Bugs and Pseudoscorpions.

Letter 38 – Toe-Biter


What is this? It looks like a cross between a roach, a moth, and a scorpion
July 22, 2009
Hi, in all my 29 years in Florida I have never seen a bug like this. We live in a wooded area with cypress and marsh behind us. I walked out of my house this morning to find this bug on the porch. I’d be so grateful if you could identify it. I left it alone and this afternoon it was gone.
Bugged out.


Dear Bugged Out,
This is one of the most beautiful images of a Toe-Biter, or Electric Light Bug, or Giant Water Bug we have ever seen.  We have numerous letters with numerous photos and lots of information already posted on our website regarding this amazing insect.

Letter 39 – Toe-Biter


Scarabs invading our work.
October 20, 2009
These have been invading our work as of late, seemed to show up a couple days ago. Everyones intrest is peaked because they look so scary. We’ve got grown men screaming like little girls!
Springs going Boing
Southeast Michigan


Dear Springs going Boing,
Try turning off the lights at night as they may be attracted to the lights.  This is a Giant Water Bug, also known as a Toe-Biter or Electric Light Bug and it is one of our top 10 most frequently requested identifications.

Letter 40 – Toe-Biter


Looks carnivorous to me…
March 3, 2010
Hey Bugman! I found this bug at work today and I’ve never seen anything like it!
I’m so very curious about this insect, but can’t ID it at all…
Corvallis, Oregon

Giant Water Bug

Hi Hepler,
Identification requests for Giant Water Bugs, commonly called Toe-Biters, are so frequent during the summer that we have put them on our Top 10 list.  Members in the genus Lethocerus are reported from coast to coast in North America on BugGuide, and they also may be found in many other parts of the world.  Much larger relatives are eaten in Thailand.  Your observation that the Giant Water Bug looks carnivorous is astute, and they are fierce aquatic predators that can also take flight to seek out new hunting grounds.

Letter 41 – Toe-Biter


This bug creeps me out man….
June 9, 2010
This bug runs around here in Shreveport/Bossier City area, It has massive claw like things and once it latches onto a stick or something it does not let go, they are probably 3-4 inches in length give or take.
Shreveport, La


Hi Ben,
This is a Giant Water Bug, commonly called a Toe-Biter or Electric Light Bug.  They are aquatic predators that will bite a person if carelessly handled, and the bite is quite painful.  Though they are aquatic, they fly quite well and they are attracted to lights.  Because of their large size and unusual appearance, they are one of the most common identification requests sent to our website.  Since we will be out of the office from June 15 through June 22, we are setting some letters to post in our absence, and your letter will be one of those.

Letter 42 – Toe-Biter


this bug is the first like it i have ever seen.
Location: texas
June 21, 2011 12:13 am
I found this bug in my kitchen sink. It makes a loud chirp/ squeal. I live on a lake in south Texas. It has visible eyes and its front legs look like it uses them to eat.
Signature: Jeanette Stockman


Hi Jeanette,
We love your photo.  This is a Giant Water Bug and it is also commonly called a Toe-Biter.  Though it is an aquatic insect, we doubt that it was attracted to your sink as a water source, and it is also not interested in food scraps as it is a very proficient predator.  Another common name for the Giant Water Bug is Electric Light Bug, and we believe it was probably attracted to a light over the sink.

Letter 43 – Toe-Biter


what’s this bug?
Location: Maytown, WA
July 12, 2011 1:17 pm
Can you please help identify this insect? It was found in the evening on July 11, 2011 in western Washington in a town called Maytown.
Thanks for your help
Signature: Mandy


Dear Mandy,
This Giant Water Bug is also known as a Toe-Biter or an Electric Light Bug.  It is one of our most common identification requests, though we haven’t posted a new photo in a little while.  The raptorial front legs of your specimen seem particularly developed, though it might just be the camera angle.

Thank you very much for your reply. This guy was developed very well. We see these every now and then so it’s nice to finally be able to have a name to associate.


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    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

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    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

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Tags: Giant Water Bug

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35 Comments. Leave new

  • I just identified this same insect that bit/stung my baby son this morning. We were in the pool and he started shreaking. I have googled for hours to find out how to treat this wound.

    I need to know if its poisonous and if I should do something medically for my son. Any information would be helpful


  • Mrs. MJ Timmerman
    April 2, 2010 8:55 pm

    Thank you for getting back to me so quickly with the information about this bug.
    My 2 dogs sniffed at it and jumped back when it moved, giving me the impression that it may be a biter. I assumed right and am glad I didn’t aggravate it in any way.
    Now that you have posted this I see the large amount of messages and photos describing the Giant Water Bug. I guess I did skip a page, or 12. lol
    It makes sense as to why it is here with all the water we have around. It must have been drawn to my outside light which explains why it would be in the flowerbed closest to my house.
    I am a bit surprised that this is the first one I’ve seen at my home considering I’ve lived here for 14 years now. Preferably I won’t see another like it for at least that long. Only because I am not a bug lover and that’s one ugly bug. I would never kill anything, and did release this big guy to live out it’s life, hopefully unharmed.
    Kudos for creating and providing the BEST bug site on the internet!

  • I have one living in my pool and couldn’t wait to ID it. What doesn’t seem to be pictured in the other photos is that a “stinger” protrudes out the back and when Aggravated it splits to two and this “stinger” is usually curled upward like a scorpion. When it dives it pulls the stinger inside itself. Our bug is a least 2″ in length and over 2.5″ in width from point of longest leg to point of longest leg.

    • Dear Trace,
      What you have mistaken for a stinger is actually a snorkel-like breathing tube.

  • We get these Toe-Biters down at our local service station. I’m assuming they are attracted by the lights. When I first saw one I was fascinated but had no idea what it was. After browsing this website for a little while I found out what it was. I’ve been checking this website regularly ever since.

  • May I just say what a comfort to uncover somebody who truly knows what they are talking about on the web.
    You certainly understand how to bring an issue to light and
    make it important. More and more people have to read this and understand this side of the story.

    I can’t believe you’re not more popular given that you certainly possess
    the gift.

  • Hey guys,
    have you thought about putting a small picture strip across the top of the page with say 5 of the most common ID’s like toe biter, mole cricket, luna moth, bed bugs and sesame seeds 🙂
    Might save a lot of enquiries for the same thing over and over.


    • We hope your appreciation of the natural world has been increased now that you have learned something about Toe-Biters.

  • Hi me and my friend found one of these on my side lawn and I got my mason jar aka bug jar and some pliers and I grabbed it and put it in the jar and then showed every one it and they did not know what it was so I searched it and it showed that it was a tow bitter can u reply to me what it eats

    • Toe-Biters are aquatic predators, and though they are capable of flying, we do not believe they hunt in the air. The do hunt underwater. You could probably feed them small goldfish, and you will most likely not need to feed them too often, possibly as little as once a week.

  • We just had the same thing happen here in Houston. I told my husband to get out of the pool till I could get the net, but he didn’t believe me. By the time I got back, it was chasing him. He is very, very lucky he didn’t get bitten.

  • Hi all,

    I was curious to know if anyone knows whether or not these guys can stay alive in ice? I work on a pond site which we freeze in the winter to create an ice skating area, and we were drilling into the 5″ thick ice and found one of these bugs, still alive! We put it in some bushes but it died shortly after.

    • It is our understanding that Toe-Biters can pass the winter in water under the ice. According to Nature North: “Adult water bugs overwinter in water bodies.” No explanation is provided. We presume that the cold water lowers the metabolism, allowing the Toe-Biter to enter a state of suspended animation.

  • Hi all,

    I was curious to know if anyone knows whether or not these guys can stay alive in ice? I work on a pond site which we freeze in the winter to create an ice skating area, and we were drilling into the 5″ thick ice and found one of these bugs, still alive! We put it in some bushes but it died shortly after.

  • I say one of these in the middle of Toronto (near Avenue Road and Lawrence Ave.), beside the sidewalk, on its back trying to right itself. I helped it flip itself (with a stick, not knowing anything about it), and it ambled off and flopped on its back again. I thought it might be dying, as it moved so slowly. Then it righted itself and continued on. Is it not unusual for such a creature to get so deep into a city?

    • We are quite certain that even in a city, there are aquatic habitats that can accommodate Toe-Biters. Though they are very agile in water and quite adept at flying, Toe-Biters are clumsy on land as you observed.

  • Liam Monahan
    June 14, 2015 6:12 am

    We found giant bugs in pike lake near Duluth, mn. It appears to live under water. It about 1.5 in long and had some sort of pearl looking thing on it back. When stepped on by accident it stuck to a ladies foot . Any idea what it might be?

  • I’ve found these a few times here in Minnesota, but I have never caught one, seeing as the ones I’ve found are quite large (1.5 – 3 inches). What do their larva look like?

  • crazy i seen one of these in a parking lot and couldnt believe the size of it but now that im thinking about it , I seen of these when i was a kid and it scared me

  • July 09 2016. Found Lk Stevens Wa. The night before
    Was a heavy rain.

  • I would see these a lot while I was photographing night time high school football and soccer games in Lakeville, MN and surrounding suburbs but now, I live in vegas, where we have tarantulas, killer bees, scorpions, black widows and cockroaches. The roaches come out at night during the spring and early summer on sidewalks, decks, outdoor walls, and then they just disappear for the rest of the year. They’re like our version of Minnesota mosquitoes

  • Cheryl Roderiques
    April 6, 2017 2:04 am

    I am from Gauteng in Johannesburg South Africa.
    Just found a giant water bug at work, but thought they could only be found in Natal.

    Are they commonly found in Gauteng Johannesburg?

  • Cheryl Roderiques
    April 6, 2017 2:04 am

    I am from Gauteng in Johannesburg South Africa.
    Just found a giant water bug at work, but thought they could only be found in Natal.

    Are they commonly found in Gauteng Johannesburg?

  • I found one at the laundry mat in Western NY ugly big bug looks like it has Pinchers on the front of it scared the crap out of me thanks for letting me no what it is

  • what could happen if they bite a dog?

  • Heather Vines Wallace
    July 21, 2017 5:01 pm

    We found one at myrtle beach!

  • I Just had one of these suckers fly around inside my truck when I was driving down the Highway. I couldn’t get pulled over quick enough to let it out.

  • My dog just found one out in our backyard. I think it bit her as she jumped and yellped. She seems fine but I am not too sure about the bug. I brought her into our house and hope the bug was able to survive. We were just putting up our pool and I think it must have been attracted to the wet ground around it. Our dog seems fine. No after effects noted.

  • We saw one this morning on the beach in Panama City Beach FL!

  • We call this the oil sands beetle, it’s a biting, flying, giant water bug that lives near muskeg areas like northern Alberta and Saskatchewan


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