We bought a home here on Table Rock Lake five years ago, and in that time I have seen countless amazing creatures that I never thought I would see. The most interesting by far include some of the creepiest bugs I have ever seen. Here are some of my favorites:
Ambush Bug (Phymata latreille)
The ambush bug is a creepy looking bug with huge arms like a bodybuilder's. They come in all sorts of colors to blend into the flowers where they hunt. The reason the ambush bug needs to blend in is that it is just waiting for its prey so it can grab it with its ridiculously huge muscled forearms. Once the ambush bug has its prey (usually a caterpillar or fly), it stabs the poor thing with its pointy beak. With this beak, the ambush bug then injects paralytic saliva (spit) to immobilize its meal while it liquefies the bug’s tissue with its digestive enzymes. Finally, it sucks up the liquefied bug through its beak. Yummy, huh?
Giant Water Bug (Lethocerus americanus)
The giant water bug is a freak of nature for sure. They can grow to over four inches long, the male carries the eggs around on his back while the female goes looking for more mates, and it can breathe through its rear end while swimming. Yes, it breathes through its rear end (behind, keister, rump, heinie, butt). They are the largest true bug in the United States, and if the size does not scare you, the fact that they are called toe-biters may. Yep, they will bite your toe if you get in their way or if they think it looks like something tasty. The giant water bug eats like the ambush bug does, by stabbing its victim with its pointy beak and injecting it with a venom that paralyzes and liquefies it. Then it sucks up the liquefied prey from the inside out. Oh yeah, they can eat animals 50 times their size, which is pretty big since they are about four inches long! In fact, they like to eat tadpoles, frogs, lizards, and fish. And toes, so keep your shoes on!
Eastern Hercules Beetle (Dynastes tityus)
The Eastern Hercules Beetle is just one of the over 300 species in the rhinoceros beetle family. They are tan, gray, or green with black flecks or spots and can grow up to three or four inches long. The male has two horns coming from the top and bottom of his head that are used as pincers when fighting other males for a mate. These giant bugs look like prehistoric monsters that could take off a finger or toe, but they are actually completely harmless to humans. In fact, they are harmless to other bugs and critters as well because they live on tree sap. The grubs live in rotted trees, stumps, and logs, eating the decaying wood of pine and hardwoods. Even though they look scary, they are actually kind of pretty, and many people keep them as pets.
Masked Hunter (Reduvius personatus)
The masked hunter is one of those bugs that like to stab and drink their prey. It seems like a lot of the scariest bugs in the Ozarks are vampires, right? Well, kind of. They do not just drink the blood, they liquefy and drink the tissues too. The part I find the creepiest about the masked hunter is not how they eat though; it is how they camouflage themselves. If you look at the photograph above, you can see that this sneaky bug likes to cover itself in dirt, dust, lint, or whatever else it can find. That way they can sneak up on their prey and stab them. They are pretty small, under an inch long, but they have been known to pack a painful bite even to humans if you make them mad. Oh yeah, they can fly too. Great.
Wheel Bug (Arilus cristatus)
The wheel bug looks even more prehistoric than the others and has a strange looking crest on its back that looks like a wheel, which is where it got its name. It is a carnivore that eats just about any kind of insect it can stick its beak into. If you make it mad, it will stab you too. Their bite is reportedly even worse than the others because of the toxic enzymes they inject that liquefies the tissues. Some say it feels like a gunshot (I guess those people must have been shot before to know this) and others say it is the worst pain they have ever felt. It needs to be disinfected right away to prevent infection, and it can take up to a month to heal. I suggest a visit to the doctor if you get stung just to be safe. Another weird thing about the wheel bug is the red scent glands under the abdomen that it sticks out when irritated. I suppose this is to scare away predators, like with stink bugs. It is not very fast, but it can fly and has an armor covering its body to protect it.
Praying Mantis (Mantis religiosa)
The praying mantis got its name because it holds its legs up like it is praying. This is one of the coolest bugs I have ever seen although many people think they are really creepy. They look at you with those big eyes and put up their legs like they are going to punch you, but they actually seem to like people. The praying mantis eats spiders, lizards, frogs, and even small birds. I have seen a video of a praying mantis catching (and eating) a hummingbird. They have wings but do not fly well and can get up to six inches long. Interestingly, females are known to eat their mates after copulation, but I think I know why. The male waits until she is not looking and then jumps on her back and holds her by the neck during copulation. For about FIVE HOURS! I cannot blame her for wanting to kill him. To prevent being eaten, the male will run away and then freeze for about four minutes before leaving. I am not sure if he does this so she will not attack him or because he is worn out from copulating for five hours. Wow. Five hours.
Striped Bark Scorpion
The striped bark scorpion is tan to brown, with two stripes (hence, the name) on its back and only a couple of inches long, which does not make them any easier to live with. In fact, it is even worse because they can hide easier. They have four pairs of legs with pincers on the front and a long tail with a stinger on the end. They like to hide in dark, warm places like bedding, clothing, and shoes, which makes them even more dangerous. I know two people that have been stung in their beds here in the Ozarks. And scorpions do not sting just once; they sting as many times as you let them, so get away quick if you get stung. It is not usually deadly, but it hurts (like a bee sting) and can cause swelling and muscle spasms. Although it is rare, some people can have allergic reactions that may cause anaphylactic shock, which can be fatal. The creepiest part about the scorpion is the fact that it has up to six pairs of eyes on its back and along its sides and it has hairs underneath it that let it feel vibrations and even hear sounds. Yeah, that is creepy. But, at least they do not fly!
When we moved to the Ozarks five years ago, I did not believe it when I heard that there were scorpions here. I mean, scorpions live in the desert, not in Missouri. Right? Wrong. What I did not know is that where we live in the Ozarks is considered the Glades. That means there is hardly any soil and mostly bedrock, which is a good place for creatures like the striped scorpion and even tarantulas. I should have known something was up when I saw cacti growing everywhere. And these little buggers (scorpions) can hide anywhere as I found out the first year when my cat found one in our bedroom. I must admit, I hit it with my shoe because I was afraid it was going to sting my cat. I felt bad afterward, but I took some pictures and saved it to show my husband, who I knew would not believe me. So, that is it; those are the creepiest bugs in the Missouri Ozarks in my opinion. I hope you enjoyed reading this. Does anyone have any more creepy bugs to add to the list from Missouri or anywhere else? If you do, please let us know in the comments section below