Sarasota News Leader

04/05/2013

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Sarasota News Leader April 5, 2013 Page 72 Dear Having Every Reason to Be Proud, liquefies body tissues so that after 10 to 15 minutes, Letho can suck them up, much like By the time I have eaten a Giant Water Bug guzzling an extra-large protein milkshake. (Lethocerus americanus) and regurgitated its indigestible parts (wings, proboscis, mandi- Letho is a water denizen, thus the nickname bles, etc.), it is not in the proper condition for "toe biter," because people are sometimes bithemipteran insect taxonomy or identification, ten by it when they are wading in a pond or so I greatly appreciate the chance Franz's su- even in a swimming pool. perb photo provides me to research this fierce, but highly beneficial, Florida native predator Letho's diet consists of aquatic insects, from miniscule larvae (including millions of mosand divulge its mysterious ways. quito larvae!) and crustaceans, to small fish, This utterly fascinating bug, which I am nick- adult frogs, baby turtles and snakes. One naming Letho, from its Latin name, is also source claims that Letho is capable of catchknown as the "toe biter" and "electric light ing and eating an animal 50 times its size. That bug." seems unlikely, but it is a fun (and painful) Letho actually plays possum when it feels thought on which to reflect as well as one that threatened by people. Playing possum is a allows the imagination to run wild! clever defense mechanism based on the theLetho is 3 inches long. Multiply that by 50 and ory that a possible predator — a cat, dog or you end up with a prey that is about 12½ feet even a human — eventually will grow bored long. A snake meal now sounds feasible, does by this lifeless creature and walk away. And it not? they usually do walk away. But Franz did not! When he came upon it, even though it was Do you know how much money is generated probably dying, it instinctively "played dead" by the recreational snorkeling tourism indusuntil Franz came too close to it with the ruler. try? Neither do I, but I do know that Letho does not contribute a penny to it because Had Franz picked it up, Letho would have viLetho is born with its own pair of snorkels! ciously defended itself by seizing Franz's finIt is an aquatic insect which cannot breathe ger in its hook-tipped forelimbs and injecting underwater. Attached to Letho's rear end are Franz's digit with a powerful toxin through two breathing tubes that extend to the water's its semi-retractable proboscis. What a close call! Well, it is not as though I have not warned surface, drawing in air. The air is trapped unreaders before not to willy-nilly pick up snakes der its wings and enters the bug's abdomen or other creatures until they seriously consid- through little holes, basically tracheal openings. er the consequences. Wiki states that Letho's "bite is considered one of the most painful that can be inflicted by any insect ... excruciatingly painful." Why? Because its injected toxin dissolves flesh and Now, this is where I am anxious to describe another unusual characteristic of genus Letho. As is common in the animal kingdom, the female chooses a mate. In the Letho world, rath-

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