Welcome to the first post of my new Column ‘Sects in the City. Where I divulge the details of a delightful little creature I have photographed.
Some would say Australians have big heads (anyone who watched Flight of the Conchords has been taught this ‘ fact’). And some Australians have big everything else to match – I am referring of course to our insect’s tendency towards gigantism. The world’s heaviest moth and cockroach reside here (yay?). We have the Titan stick insects, Golith stick insect, King cricket, Colossus earwig and, drum roll please, the Giant water bug!
In 2006 I picked up an issue of Australian Geographic in the Sydney airport that featured and fantastic article on GIANT Insects. I was glued to the article during my flight. Most insects I was familiar with, or had least heard of, but one stood out…the Giant water bug. But as it is a mud-dweller and I am not, I thought it was unlikely we would meet each other in this lifetime. But I was very wrong…
As I dragged by suitcase up the drive way from the taxi, I noticed a big ‘thing’ just lying there. Yes, it was a Giant water bug – weird huh? It wasn’t alive, but it was giant. Not as big as the 7cm quoted in the magazine, but plenty big enough. I guessed that a bird must have caught it, the bug put up a heck of a fight, and was dropped. Although its wings are clearly visible, I just could not believe that it could fly, but fly they can… anyway the word must be out for my bug portraits, because I found another one on my driveway today!
I found this fellow (or fellow-ette? I can’t tell…) on its back, waving its legs in the air and from a distance, I though it was an emaciated mouse. So I went over to rescue the poor thing and -woah!- that ‘aint no mouse – HUGE bug-beast! I should have recognised the creature much sooner, but really it is just so unusual looking. So I relished my chance to at last photograph one of these relatively unknown critters.
It is a fearsome predator when it is lurking at home in the water or rivers, pools and lagoons. It likes a bit of mud and debris to hide amongst as it stalks tadpoles, small fish, crustaceans and other aquatic insects. A similar creature in the USA is called a ‘toe biter’ because of the painful but non-poisonous bite they can give. So you can imagine, I was very careful when handling it!
As far as making it look beautiful…well let’s be realistic… there just isn’t a chance of that happening! But to get the amazing details, I decided to photograph the Giant water bug in its element and to make it really stand out, I placed it in a white bowl with spring water. It happily swum around, but watching it throw its beefy arms over the side and hoist itself up and out when it had enough of a paddle, was a little alarming.
I also took the bug’s photo with a pen, so you could see just how big it was. My grandfather was a keen nature photographer and I have 1000’s of Kodachrome slides with tiny rare wildflowers and a coin or matchstick placed carefully alongside for scale. It is not aesthetically pleasing, but as a reference shot amongst your images, is a wonderful habit to acquire. (Update: I expanded on this handy tip here)
I wanted to get a shot of it in its natural habitat, but it virtually disappeared into the creek bank as soon as I let it go, and as I find my fingers quite handy, I decided not to poke around in the mud for it.
Next week I will choose a creature to feature that is just as fascinating, but a little better looking!