Last week, a Facebook post gained popularity the way most viral posts do. It contained an alarming message with an equally unsightly photo: the picture of a foot with many small holes and a bug beside it. The post read:
“Pls, don’t kill this insect wit yr foot. As u can see from d image. It is everywhere in the country. Don’t ignore dis message but share to save lives”.
Three years ago, this same post was viral in a country which is 6,624 miles away from Nigeria by flight. In that country, the United States, the post claimed that a killer bug had travelled all the way from India into America and close contact with the bug could cause infections that resembled acid burns.
One famous article (perhaps now infamous) went as far as claiming that 100 people had died by merely touching the insect, and to sound credible, it quoted the Centre for Disease Control, an authoritative organization under the US Department of Health and Human Services which works to provide quality information on public health, safety and security threats.
Now, in Nigeria, this post took a very vague form. It did not state how the insect got into the country or if it has always been in the country or even what the insect is, but it claims to be everywhere. However, it turns out that the alleged insect is called the giant water bug.
How do we know this? We searched online for pictures of the insect and checked health journals and the pictures all match the claim. The Encyclopaedia Britannica describes the insect as any wide and flat-bodied aquatic insect of the family Belostomatidae. According to the encyclopaedia, the females of some species of these bugs forcefully attach their eggs onto the backs of the males, where they remain until hatched. This explains the appearance of the bug in the photo. The giant water bug, as the name suggests is one of the largest bugs, sometimes exceeding 10cm (4 inches) in some South American species.
A study reveals that, like most insects, the bug delivers painful toe-bites when it perceives a threat. This has earned it the name “toe-biter”. Nonetheless, all evidence points to the fact that this insect is not deadly. One study, which examined 7 cases of the giant water bites reported that bites left the participants of the study, in excruciating pain that they described as pulsating. However, this pain subsided in all the participants; some within minutes to 5 hours.
Now, an interesting fact is that the giant water bug is only found in North America, South Africa and East Asia, further eliminating the relevance of the Facebook message to Nigerians. Even if you argue that perhaps the insect migrated, that is very unlikely to be true because not all insects migrate. The ones that do seem to have some sort of wings such as grasshoppers, dragonflies, true bugs, beetles, and of course, butterflies and moths.
Moreover, the giant water bug is only found at the bottom of muddy water and ponds or surrounding vegetation. Hence, it cannot be all over Nigeria as the claim suggests. (Fun fact: The giant water bug is also among some of the bugs that are regularly eaten in Asia)
For the photo on the left, it has been used to describe trypophobia in many online posts. Trypophobia is fear or aversion to clusters of small holes. This is especially in cases where holes appear to be patterns or irregular and are closely packed as in lotus seed pods, sponges, honeycomb, strawberries and indeed the photo. The images are thought to provoke fear, disgust or anxiety in people who have trypophobia.
Our Conclusion? This is a false claim! Although we cannot ascertain the intent of the poster, we assume that this is misinformation (mistakenly sharing wrong information) and we say “put your slippers on! Not because of this bug but because it is hygienic!!”