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Water Bugs: The Secret Allies of Your Garden


Aquatic insects known as water bugs exhibit a preference for dark environments when diving. Their inclination for darkness stems from their diet, which primarily consists of other insects inhabiting aquatic environments, driving them to seek concealed locations.

Remarkably, these water bugs are widespread worldwide, particularly in densely populated regions with high humidity and stagnant water. Their ability to endure harsh conditions contributes to their prevalence in various areas.

Due to their penchant for consuming mosquito larvae, some homeowners may temporarily welcome their presence in their pools. However, it’s crucial to note that once they establish their habitat, eliminating them becomes a challenging task. Conventional pest control methods are insufficient, necessitating special considerations for effective removal.

Water Bugs

If you’ve reached this page, you are likely either curious about water bugs or studying Entomology. Alternatively, you might be dealing with a water bug infestation in your home or pool. Regardless of the reason, this article contains comprehensive information to meet your needs.

What Are Water Bugs?

Water bugs are a category of insects that inhabit aquatic environments or live close to water sources. They belong to the Belostomatidae family, comprising several genera like Bolostoma, Nephus, and Lethocerus. These insects possess flattened bodies, enabling them to effortlessly glide through water.

Throughout North America and Europe, water bugs are commonly found. In North America alone, there are over 200 known species of water bugs. They can be spotted in proximity to lakes, ponds, and slow-moving streams or rivers. Their bodies are specifically adapted for swimming, with two pairs of wings held flat over their backs, functioning like paddles while they navigate through water.

Water bugs are carnivorous and mainly prey on other insects they capture while swimming or walking in water or around aquatic areas on land. Occasionally, they may consume small fish and tadpoles if available, although they tend to avoid larger fish or frogs.

Certain types of water bugs possess large jaws on their heads to seize their prey before using a tube known as an “osmophore” to extract the prey’s insides into their stomachs. This feeding method is referred to as “predatory suction feeding.”

While their scientific name is the “Corixidae family,” water bugs are known by various other names, including Toe Biters, Water Boatmen, Water Scorpion, Corixids, and Water Bug.

Where Do They Live?

While they are mostly found in ponds, lakes, streams, and rivers, some species have ventured onto land. These bugs are elusive; you might even find them under rocks or logs in damp areas or under tree bark. One thing the bugs have in common is their unique breathing system, which is similar to that of fish. 

Living near water sources is essential for these bugs, or else they would not survive. However, some species have an ace up their sleeves and can survive for up to two days without water by hiding under rocks or logs.

What Do Water Bugs Look Like?

Water bugs, also known as dobsonflies and fish flies, despite their names, are not true bugs or flies. They possess three pairs of legs and one pair of wings. The hind wings are thickened at the base and are folded over the body when the insect is not in flight.

These insects vary in size, ranging from a few millimeters to over two inches in length. One distinctive feature that sets them apart from other aquatic insects is their prominent eyes. These large eyes grant water bugs exceptional vision in low-light conditions, making them highly effective hunters during the night.

Their large heads and long legs enable water bugs to swim swiftly through the water. To protect themselves from predators during extended periods out of the water, they possess a hard exoskeleton. This exoskeleton also aids in preventing them from drying out when they are not submerged.

In addition to the exoskeleton, some species have an additional layer of waxy tissue underneath, helping to keep their bodies moist even when not in water.

Though water bugs have wings, they primarily use them for mating rituals or as a means of escape from predators, such as birds or other animals, when attacked on land. However, most species do not fly well due to their small or underdeveloped wings. Some may manage short-distance flights, but this is possible only with sufficient wind to lift them into flight mode.

Water Bugs’ Behavior

Water bugs exhibit behaviors similar to beetles, but their aquatic nature sets them apart. They are sometimes referred to as “toe biters” due to their tendency to bite human toes. These insects are commonly found in warm water regions such as swamps and ponds. While they are most active at night, disturbances to their hiding spots may cause them to be visible during the day.

Being attracted to light, water bugs may occasionally enter houses through open doors or windows. It’s not uncommon for people to mistake them for cockroaches or locusts, but they actually belong to different insect families.

Interestingly, water bugs do not reside in water year-round. During the warm summer months, when their typical aquatic habitats dry up, they seek refuge in buildings. Damp areas like basements and crawl spaces, which are cool and moist, are particularly attractive to them in such situations.

What Do Water Bugs Eat?

Water bugs are notorious for being able to eat a wide variety of foods. From small insects like mosquitoes and flies to other water bugs and even snails, they have a diverse palate. However, some species have specialized in their diets and feed solely on dead animals or plants along the shoreline. 

One species that stands out is Belostoma flumineum, which has adapted to an entirely aquatic lifestyle. Their diet consists of bigger prey, such as tadpoles, fish, and salamanders, which they hunt and consume entirely underwater. Despite their predatory nature, they rarely leave the water, only venturing to the land to lay eggs and breed.  

Types Of Water Bugs

The most common types of water bugs comprise the giant water bug (Belostoma) and the backswimmer (Notonecta).

#1 Giant Water Bug:

The giant water bug is a sizable insect, measuring up to 2 inches in length. It possesses a flat body with long legs and antennae. Its head is triangular, featuring bulging eyes and two elongated mandibles resembling fangs extending from its mouth. These creatures typically exhibit brown or black colors, though certain species may display brighter shades such as red or green. Giant water bugs inhabit ponds and other water bodies, where they catch their prey by diving into the water and pursuing it while swimming.

Water scorpions, also known as “toe biters” (Nepidae), are part of this group. They are named so because they may bite people’s toes while swimming or bathing in shallow waters. While their bites can cause pain, swelling, itching, and irritation at the bite site, they are generally not dangerous unless someone is allergic to their saliva.

#2 Backswimmer:

The backswimmer, also known as the water treader, is another type of water bug. It possesses two long hind legs that aid in swimming, while its front legs are longer than its middle legs. The backswimmer’s body is flattened, and its head appears relatively large compared to its size. It is sometimes mistaken for the water boatman due to its similar appearance, but the backswimmer can be distinguished by its triangular head (unlike the boatman’s rounded head). Backswimmers have prominent upward-facing large eyes on their heads, which allow them to see above the water’s surface while swimming in search of food or mates.

These insects have wings that fold tightly against their bodies when not in use, enabling them to navigate through narrow spaces like pipes or drains in households effectively. Their bodies typically exhibit brownish-gray coloration, but they can occasionally appear yellow or greenish-yellow as well.

The Life Cycle Of A Water Bug

The life cycle of a water bug follows four distinct stages: egg, nymph, adult, and death.

Stage 1 – Egg:

The water bug’s life begins with the deposition of eggs by the female. She lays her eggs in the water or on nearby objects, such as plants. A single female can lay a considerable number of eggs, often hundreds at once.

Stage 2 – Nymph:

Once the eggs hatch, the water bug enters the nymph stage. At this point, the nymph resembles a smaller version of an adult but lacks wings. During this phase, the nymph must consume at least three times its body weight within the first three days of life to facilitate proper growth and development. Additionally, the nymph undergoes multiple molts, shedding its exoskeleton several times before reaching adulthood.

Stage 3 – Adult:

When the nymph is ready to transition into an adult, it leaves the water and moves onto land or vegetation. It continues to feed during this period until it undergoes its final molt, completing the transformation into an adult water bug. The lifespan of adult males is relatively short, usually lasting for about one year. On the other hand, adult females may live up to three years, during which they can mate multiple times and lay eggs.

Stage 4 – Death:

Following the adult stage, the water bug’s life comes to an end. Upon the death of an adult male or female water bug, their remains serve as a source of food for other creatures in the same pond or lake where they reside, contributing to the natural food chain.

Overall, the life cycle of a water bug progresses through these four stages, ensuring the continuation of their species within their aquatic habitats.

Interesting Facts About Water Bugs


Water bugs, besides their appearance, are indeed fascinating aquatic insects with several intriguing characteristics. Here are ten facts about water bugs that are sure to surprise you!


Despite being commonly called water bugs, they are not true bugs at all. Water bugs are actually beetles! The order Hemiptera includes both genuine bugs and water bugs.


Certain water bug species, like the giant ones, possess venomous mouthparts that inject paralyzing toxins into their prey’s tissues before consuming them whole!


Most water bug species have flattened bodies and long legs, which enable them to swim rapidly in water. They also have wings that allow them to fly over both land and water. However, not all species are capable of flight.


Some water bugs display impressive flying abilities, capable of traveling hundreds of miles in search of food or potential mates. They tend to take flight over bodies of freshwater, such as lakes, rivers, or ponds, where abundant food is available.


Water bugs are primarily active at night, as it’s easier for them to find food during this time. They mainly prey on insects attracted to light from windows or porch lights.


In their nymph stage, water bugs lack wings and eyes, which they acquire upon reaching adulthood.


While some water bug species are nocturnal hunters, others are active during the day.


Water bugs possess a grasping tail that aids them in clinging onto rocks and various surfaces when they are out of the water.


Female water bugs have the remarkable ability to lay up to 100 eggs in one go, ensuring the continuation of their species.

How Do I Get Rid Of Them?

Treating water bug infestations can be achieved using pesticides or insecticides specifically designed to eliminate these pests. However, an alternative and effective approach is to focus on proper sanitation practices within the home. Maintaining cleanliness, covering food when not in use, and using cleaning products containing vinegar can deter water bugs from thriving in the environment.

When dealing with severe infestations, seeking help from a professional pest control expert is crucial. These professionals have the necessary expertise and tools, such as a “sniffer” device, to locate the source of the infestation accurately. Once the hiding and feeding areas are identified, targeted insecticides can be applied directly to eliminate the pests effectively.

It is essential to avoid attempting water bug extermination without proper knowledge and experience. Mishandling pesticides or insecticides may exacerbate the problem or pose risks to individuals and pets. Therefore, enlisting the services of trained professionals ensures a safer and more successful eradication process.

Are Water Bugs Dangerous?

You are correct. Water bugs can indeed be dangerous to humans if bitten, and it is essential to take appropriate measures if such an incident occurs. Their bite can result in pain, swelling, and itching at the bite site. If an individual is allergic to mosquito bites, they may experience a severe allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis.

If bitten by a water bug, it is crucial to contact a healthcare expert immediately for proper assessment and treatment. To minimise the risk of infection, the affected area should be cleansed with soap and rinsed with water as soon as possible after the bite occurs. Scratching the bite should be avoided as it could lead to skin openings and introduce bacteria, potentially causing an infection at the wound site.

It is best to allow any insect bite to heal on its own without scratching or disturbing it to prevent the spread of bacteria into the body through the wound. Following these precautions can help ensure better recovery and minimise potential complications from a water bug bite.

Are Water Bugs And Cockroaches The Same?

Cockroaches and water bugs are often confused, but they are actually very different. Cockroaches have long antennae and shiny, oval-shaped bodies, with three pairs of legs on the thorax and cerci near the tip of their abdomen. 

On the other hand, water bugs have short antennae and shiny oval-shaped bodies with a constriction at the end that resembles a shield or head, and they also have three pairs of legs on the thorax. 

These differences in appearance are just the beginning of how the two insects differ, as their behavioral, habitat, and diet can vary significantly as well. Knowing how to distinguish between cockroaches and water bugs can help in identifying and controlling any potential infestations.

Key Points

  • Water bugs are indeed beetles, not true bugs, despite their common name. Some species of water bugs, like the giant ones, have venomous mouthparts that inject paralyzing toxins into their prey, making them formidable hunters.
  • Handling water bug infestations can be challenging, but there are effective strategies available to get rid of them.
  • As for their bites, water bug bites can be slightly dangerous, causing pain, swelling, and itching at the bite site. While they may not be as harmful as some other insect bites, it’s essential to take appropriate precautions and seek medical attention if necessary.
  • Cockroaches and water bugs are both part of the insect order Blattodea, which is why they may be confused or considered the same insects. Despite their similarities, they belong to different families within the order.


Are water bugs bad?

Some people believe water bugs are harmless and serve a vital role in aquatic ecosystems, while others see them as pests that can cause harm to humans. It’s important to note that not all water bugs are the same, and some species are completely harmless. However, some species can bite humans and leave painful and itchy welts behind. Therefore, the answer to whether water bugs are bad depends on the specific type of bug and the circumstances in which they are encountered. 

What causes water bugs?

These creatures are known for their scavenging behavior and can often be seen feeding on insects and small organisms in the water. One of the main causes of water bugs is an excess of standing water, which can provide the perfect breeding ground for these pests. Additionally, water bugs can be attracted to sources of light, such as streetlights and porch lights, making them more likely to enter homes and other buildings. 

What’s the difference between a cockroach and a water bug?

One main difference is their habitat. Cockroaches prefer warmer climates and enjoy living indoors, while water bugs can be found in bodies of water such as ponds and streams. Another difference is their appearance. Cockroaches have a flattened body with long antennae and a brownish colour while water bugs have a sleek and streamlined body with a dark colour. Additionally, water bugs are predators and can be harmful to aquatic life, while cockroaches are known for spreading disease and can be harmful to humans. 

Final Words

Water bugs are truly remarkable animals, adapted to survive in a remarkably tough environment. The challenges they face are myriad, from navigating in the dark to avoiding predators and finding food. Yet, despite these obstacles, they are incredibly resilient, having evolved over millions of years to cope with whatever their aquatic world throws at them. 

As we’ve seen throughout this article, they are masters of their environment, able to handle everything from floods and droughts to the most agile of predators. Hopefully, our discussion has helped you to better understand these fascinating creatures and appreciate the incredible feats of survival they perform every day.


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A motivated philosophy graduate and student of wildlife conservation with a deep interest in human-wildlife relationships, including wildlife communication, environmental education, and conservation anthropology. Offers strong interpersonal, research, writing, and creativity skills.

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A motivated philosophy graduate and student of wildlife conservation with a deep interest in human-wildlife relationships, including wildlife communication, environmental education, and conservation anthropology. Offers strong interpersonal, research, writing, and creativity skills.


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