[JAC: At least it's not nightjars this time!]
by Matthew Cobb
This post is entirely based on a fantastic set of fossils posted over at Updates from the Paleontology Lab which is run by the Virgina Museum of Natural History (VMNH) and updated by Dr. Alton “Butch” Dooley. My thanks to him for the pics!
If you’re like me, you are going to need some help with this one. Belostomatids (no, me neither) are water bugs – true bugs, the kind that won’t get entomologists irritated if you refer to them as ‘bugs’, cos they are. Here’s a pic of a giant water-bug, taken by Alex Wild, and found on the Tree of Life website:
These things can get pretty big and pretty bitey and are sometimes known as ‘toe-biters’ (the clue’s in the name). They’re in the same infra-order as back-swimmers, and the adult forms can fly. Even cooler, they are one of the exceptions in which males play an important role in parental care, keeping the eggs on their back until they hatch. Here’s a video of the process:
Anyway, the VMNH has been looking at triassic fossils collected at Solite Quarry, and regularly posting about them. There are all sorts of dinosaurs and plants to be found there, but they also find belostomatids… So, spot the belostomatids in this fossil (the white line is a fossilised plant stem):
There are *15*!
The answer is at least four (the different sizes are probably different nymphs):
Finally, to give you an idea of how lovely these fossils can be, here’s a beautifully-preserved belostomatid, sadly missing its head, but you can see its wings and one of its swimming legs:
To close, here’s an amazing video of one of the giant water bug toe-biters nomming a garter snake. Quite impressive (the cameraperson gets the focus sorted out after 30 secs or so):