Log Cabin Chronicles

Royal Orr

Back off from toebiters


The canoe's stern was resting in the water by the side of the pond. I heaved it back and flipped it over to let the gunwales dry. There on the cross bar was a tight cluster of a hundred or so little grey eggs. And the biggest bug I've ever seen.

It was at least two and three-quarter inches long and a good inch and a half wide, greenish-black with a pair of wicked-looking arms or pincers up front.

Bending over to look closer, I was surprised that the big creature didn't break for cover, but came forward to meet me. I reached toward it with a pair of shears that I held in my hand, just to see how far the thing was prepared to go in this standoff. It lunged, snapping its forelegs together, the exoskeleton-clad femora making a surprisingly loud clack against the metal blades. I, not the bug, beat a hasty retreat.

With apologies to faint-hearted waders and bathers everywhere, I must report that this large creature is quite common in Stanstead County streams and ponds. It goes by the all-too-descriptive name of the Eastern Toe-biter (Benacus griseus).

The Toe-biter is one member of a small family of the insect kingdom's largest true bugs. Its cousins include the Giant Water Bug and the Ferocious Water Bug. If you get close to one of these critters, you'll see that the hind legs are flattened like flippers. Those powerful-looking front legs are designed to grab prey and pull it in close. The bug's sharp beak then pierces the victim, injecting a dose of fast-acting anesthetic saliva.

It's small comfort, but still nice to know that you might not feel a thing as the toe-biter sucks the life out of you.

The big bugs eat insects (including other giant water bugs), tadpoles, little fish, and salamanders. This is a serious predator. If it moves, a toe-biter will go for it, and this means you too. Underwater, they seize and stab bare human feet - it's all lunch to them.

Unless you have an allergic reaction to its numbing spit, a tussle with a toe-biter will only leave you smarting and surprised. But it might also convince you that swimming is a pastime for backyard pools, not murky farm ponds.

Royal Orr opines in Hatley, Quebec.

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