Toe Biters

I’m just going to tell you right now, straight-up, there is no point to this post. I don’t want to lead anyone on. There is no moral or important information to be gleaned. Perhaps it could be considered part of my insect series or maybe it could be classified as a cautionary tale. It doesn’t really matter why I’m telling you this little story. Like many traumatic experiences, I’m compelled to share. It’s part of my healing.

I’ve been swimming in the lake on the island all my life. There are few things I love more than diving into a giant cool body of water on a hot day. I love the initial sting of cold that takes my breath away. I usually dive off the dock and sprint until I no longer need to scream in pain. Then I slow it down a notch until I feel like I can breathe again. Eventually when I’m about half way across the lake I turn around. I wear goggles and dive deep, swimming underwater for most of my return, watching the sunlight refract, lighting algae like dust particles in a patch of sunshine.

By the time I get back to the beach area, I’m usually swimming among the milfoil looking for the rainbow trout that lurks just under the dock. I came face to face with him once, the day after he took off with my olive wooly bugger fly. Of course, I don’t know it was the same fish, but it happened right there and he looked guilty. 

Anyway, a few weeks ago I was holding Josie’s hand as she flung herself off the dock… Wait, that’s not really how it happened. I was pulling Josie out of the deep water after she’d refused my hand and jumped off the dock when I felt something nudging my calf. I looked down and saw what looked like a pinecone. It’s not unusual to come into contact with the occasional minnow, tadpole or a drifting leaf. I couldn’t really identify this thing but I shook it away and went back to my flailing child. A few minutes later it was back and this time it had legs. I looked closer. It was unidentifiable and like nothing I had ever seen. I screeched like a fourteen year old girl and jumped onto the dock. My childhood friend and my husband both rolled their eyes. I searched the water to defend myself, but nothing.  

The next day we went back to the lake, and this time there’s something in the bucket on the dock. I lean over and take a look. It’s about 2.5 – 3 inches long and greenish brown with legs, several of them, and big pinchers on its head. It’s bumping into the walls of the bucket, just like it was bumping into my leg the day before. I collect my redemption from the husband and the childhood friend (see!) and leave Josie to put her head in the bucket to holler unintelligible garble at the bug.  

I’ve seen pinchers like that before. We were in Namibia eating at a picnic table when our truck driver hollered and jumped onto his bench. We moved the furniture and he showed us the big black bug that had bitten his toe. (A few minutes later he said: If you see one like that with a white stripe, run. It can shoot poison in your eyes from 3 feet.) This one was a different color but its pinchers looked just the same.

That night I dreamt about those pinchers and in the morning I Googled ‘big water beetle.’ Sure enough, the giant water bug lives in fresh water lakes, eats tadpoles and small fish, lays eggs by the hundreds and is also commonly known as the toe biter.

My lake swimming will never be the same, but now that I’ve shared, perhaps the healing can begin.

6 thoughts on “Toe Biters

  1. Barb

    Love your description of lake swimming, diving in and that first bite from the cold and the way it takes your breath away. I LOVE (love, love, love) lake swimming and just never get the opportunity to do it anymore. Thanks for reminding me… though I’m really hoping that by the next time I dive off a dock into the dark cool waters of a small northern Wisconsin lake I have forgotten all about your water bed tale. Eeeuuuuw!

  2. Polly Yakovich

    Congratulations! I now have the heebie jeebies and am scared to dive into my own lake sanctuary. Ick!

  3. Lani

    Reminds me of the time when I was in 6th grade and had to wear corrective oxfords all the time. After lacing them up and walking outside I realized my foot was not alone in the shoe. It takes a long time to untie those double knots and get those shoes off. But I did it in records time. A VERY large beetle had been stuck under the arch of my foot and was very grateful to be set free. Ever since then I shake out my shoes before putting them on.

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