A journey into the eyes and mind of a naturalist.

Minnow Milkshake

It has been a while since I have posted.  I recently became a parent for the first time and have been enjoying all that entails.  I have a whole mess of new photos to share and I would like to start with a series I call “Minnow Milkshake”

Hollywood may have more horror movies and special effect than most but they really don’t have anything on nature.  If you take a moment and really look at some of the adaptation animals have to survive you realize that nature can outdo just about any horror movie out there.

Take for example the Giant Water Bug of North America.  This is one of the largest true bugs on the continent (see Bugs vs. Insects).   Like all bugs the Giant Water Bug has a straw like mouth part.  However, unlike most other bugs it doesn’t suck sap from plants, it sucks the juices out of its prey.

Giant Water Bugs are not restricted to the freshwater ponds and marshes.  These diverse insects are also capable of flight.  They will travel some distance to find new hunting grounds.  Like moths they are also attracted to street and porch lights.  Unlike moths these large flying insects can also dive several feet underwater in search of their prey.

In my many years of mucking through the marshes and ponds of Minnesota I have seen many Giant Water Bugs.  As a child they were something to be feared and revered.  Their saber like mouth can also puncture human skin resulting in a bite similar to a bee sting.  Today I still get excited every time I see one slinking through the duckweed and cattails.

Giant Water Bugs are ambush predators.  they will sit and wait for something to come within striking distance.  Their mantis like forelimbs are held apart waiting for the fatal embrace of a meal.  Their prey can include smaller insects, minnows and even frogs.  I have personally seen a Giant Water Bug feeding on a Gray Tree Frog that was nearly twice its size.

There is something to be said for an invertebrate feed on a vertebrate.

These bugs are able to sit on an ambush nearly indefinitely because they have a built in snorkel.  This long appendage can be extended from or retracted into its abdomen.  The picture above shows the ‘snorkel’ at full extension.

Giant Water Bugs do not die each fall like a number of their other insect relatives.  Instead they hibernate under submerged logs or vegetation.  This individual was found crawling across my school’s parking lot in early November before the ponds had frozen over.   I brought the bug inside and put it in an aquarium where it is still very alive and well today.  I took these pictures during the first snow storm of the season, a contrast to the world that this bug is most accustom. My students still enjoy watching the bug in my classroom and are fascinated by its “grotesque” feeding habits.

Alright enough with the fun facts and reflection,  lets get to the good stuff!   Like all bugs Giant Water Bugs have that straw-like mouth part.  These bugs use their saber shaped mouth to puncture their prey, injecting a chemical cocktail of digestive enzymes and other goodies.  This cocktail turns the muscles, organs and other internal structures into a much more manageable liquid.

Once the prey has been thoroughly digested the bug simply sucks out the delicious ‘milkshake’ to feed, leaving behind an deflated sack of skin and scales.

This minnow was reduced from cute little fishy to a deflated bag-o-scales in less than an hour.

Nature is full of amazing, not always cuddly, creatures.  Each has hacked out its own niche in the competitive race we call survival.  Their habits may not be easy to stomach but they still amazing.


Photographers note:  This was my first time shooting through a transparent surface for underwater shots.  The container I had this bug in was plastic and quite scratched.  The quality of the photos reflects some of these scratches.  Also their was a substantial snow storm going on at the time I took the photos making for some interesting lighting.  I had fun playing around with natural and artificial lighting in the process of capturing these pictures.  Enjoy!


3 responses

  1. Erica

    Well thank you for sharing those interesting facts, they’re still gross but aside from that we found one on our front steps crawling into my daughters wet shoes. Should we let it go or set him up with a bio home? Idk what to feed him either

    March 17, 2012 at 04:14

    • You could keep it in a small aquarium with some sticks. They need something to hold on to near the surface so they can breath. I fed mine minnows, worms or anything else that moves. They are not very picky eaters. I found mine in late October and kept it alive until the following May.

      March 17, 2012 at 06:01

  2. Lisa Dahlke

    This was very informative and I think the pics are great! We have never seen anything like this before in upstate NY, and I was pretty freaked out! Thanks for the information!

    May 26, 2012 at 08:57

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