Spot the fossil belostomatids!

July 7, 2014 • 10:59 am

[JAC: At least it’s not nightjars this time!]

by Matthew Cobb

This post is entirely based on a fantastic set of fossils posted over at Updates from the Paleontology Lab which is run by the Virgina Museum of Natural History (VMNH) and updated by Dr. Alton “Butch” Dooley. My thanks to him for the pics!

If you’re like me, you are going to need some help with this one. Belostomatids (no, me neither) are water bugs – true bugs, the kind that won’t get entomologists irritated if you refer to them as ‘bugs’, cos they are. Here’s a pic of a giant water-bug, taken by Alex Wild, and found on the Tree of Life website:


These things can get pretty big and pretty bitey and are sometimes known as ‘toe-biters’ (the clue’s in the name). They’re in the same infra-order as back-swimmers, and the adult forms can fly. Even cooler, they are one of the exceptions in which males play an important role in parental care, keeping the eggs on their back until they hatch. Here’s a video of the process:

Anyway, the VMNH has been looking at triassic fossils collected at Solite Quarry, and regularly posting about them. There are all sorts of dinosaurs and plants to be found there, but they also find belostomatids…  So, spot the belostomatids in this fossil (the white line is a fossilised plant stem):


There are *15*!


Ok, now you’ve got your eye in, how many in THIS one?

The answer is at least four (the different sizes are probably different nymphs):


Finally, to give you an idea of how lovely these fossils can be, here’s a beautifully-preserved belostomatid, sadly missing its head, but you can see its wings and one of its swimming legs:


To close, here’s an amazing video of one of the giant water bug toe-biters nomming a garter snake. Quite impressive (the cameraperson gets the focus sorted out after 30 secs or so):


9 thoughts on “Spot the fossil belostomatids!

  1. Very cool. Growing up, I had many encounters with the smaller species. I cannot recall seeing a male without eggs or hatchlings on their back. Occasionally I would catch the really big ones (possibly Lethocercus)? I would never pick one of those up with my bare hands, nossir.

  2. I remember learning about them when I was a kid, catching a few, and thinking they were pretty cool bugs.

    The last video reminded me of reading the book, “Food of the Gods” as a kid, which was about various animals eating something and growing to enormous size. At one point in the story, a man fell into a tank or pond and was attacked by several foot long giant water bugs (which kept feeding even after they were decapitated).

    Seems to be a theme here recently about small animals killing prey that you wouldn’t think they would normally attack.

    1. There is a film version of “Food of the Gods” that is, quite simply, the most magnificent thing ever committed to celluloid. You have not yet lived until you’ve seen the Canadian football player ask the old lady on the farm the following question, “LADY!!!, where in the HELL did you get those chickens?!?!?!?” Movie magic if ever there was . . . it’s actually quite terrible. I mean one of the worst films ever made, but it is funny to watch.

      1. I remember seeing ads for the film, but never actually saw it. I have no idea whether the book I read was actually the H.G. Wells book (it probably was), or based on the movie.

        Around that time, the CBC ran a ‘World’s Worst Film Festival’ late on Friday or Saturday nights. They included ‘Robot Monster’, and ‘Plan 9 from Outer Space’, but I don’t think Food of the Gods made it. I remember ‘Shriek of the Mutilated’ was ridiculous, but had a great final line.

        1. Was “Night of the Lepus” or “Frogs” among those “World’s Worst Film Festival” movies? Maybe the campiest movies I’ve ever seen…

  3. That’s a bummer! I was pulling for the snake to make it’s getaway… Those giant water bugs were seen to prey on small snakes several times at one of our study sites on the Savannah River Site in South Carolina. The bugs would find the snakes trapped in minnow traps that we had set to catch snakes.

  4. I don’t know if I should admit this, but it made me super happy to hear a young woman’s voice behind the camera. I have a two year old daughter who likes to watch ants march around the edges of the playground, and didn’t hesitate to hold out her hand so I could give her a firefly (lightning bug) I caught the other day. She likes snakes and spiders, too. I doubt she’ll be an entomologist (or herpetologist, or arachnoidologist?), and I’m not even sure what exactly I’m trying to say here, but I love the fact that I’ll be able to show her videos like this as she grows up and it won’t be all men behind the cameras.

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