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The Dobson Fly...King of the Bugs?

Updated on May 4, 2011

A Fly you don't mess with!

Hellgrammite Larvae Wiki snaps
Hellgrammite Larvae Wiki snaps
Adult Female Dobson Fly, showing her mandibles Wiki snaps
Adult Female Dobson Fly, showing her mandibles Wiki snaps

The Larvae - Hellgrammites - Make top fish bait.

Sometimes referred to as the "King Bug," although it is a fly and not a true bug at all, is the Dobson Fly, a native of North and South America.

It belongs to the order of Megaloptera, which contain some 300 separate species, and family of Corydalidae, which consist of several further specific member species.

The larvae of this singular insect lives in rivers for several years where it is generally known as a Hellgrammite. Fishermen around the North-Eastern salmon and trout streams of the USA know the large larvae well as it makes excellent bait.

Rather like the killing of a lion to the Masai is a proof of manhood and bravery, the seeking of hellgrammites by small boys in Montana, say, is also a test of courage. This is because the predatory larvae - and the adult female fly (but not the male) possess short, powerful mandibles: pincers that can quite easily draw blood from an incautious finger. This being the idea amongst the youngsters who grope around under rocks in the rivers until a hellgrammite finds them and bites, hard! They then keep a stiff upper lip while grabbing the insect with the other hand before it can let go.

A much easier way, and preferred by adults whose childhood bravery is a few years behind them, is to rig a net across the river while, upstream, they overturn the rocks and loosen the hellgrammites which float down in the swift current into the nets.

A hellgrammite on a fisherman's hook will stay alive several hours while it is employed to attract a nice juicy salmon.

The adult dobsonfly only lives for 7 days during which time it mates and does not feed, except perhaps sucks a little juice from berries. The males can be quite scary at this time, reaching lengths of five inches with their one-inch pincers open! But they have no power to bite as does the female with her shorter mandibles able to exert more closing force.

After depositing her eggs in clusters on overhanging vegetation by the river, the adults die and the cycle is repeated. It is extraordinary how much primitive life spends most of its time in a moribund state as a pupae or larvae and so little as an adult enjoying the fresh air and sunshine. Of course, Buddhists may make a case saying mankind is only in a larvaic stage and may come back in a higher state of being.

This is just a short article as this fellow is not of great interest if you don’t fish.


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    • diogenes profile image

      diogenes 5 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Thanks for taking the time to tell me about it, James...It must have been hungry to contemplate such a large dinner!


    • profile image

      james 5 years ago

      the Dobson fly is a weird fly. in my 20 years iv never seen one until a few hours ago. lol it seemed like it was trying to eat me, but a very interesting specimine in-deed.

    • diogenes profile image

      diogenes 7 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Hi Hanna: I didn't realize ou were a fisherwoman. We don't get these in the Uk unfortunately...Bob

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 7 years ago from London, UK

      Thank you for this fascinating read.

    • diogenes profile image

      diogenes 7 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Hi again, Trish: Trust you to be having all the fun while the poor males had to find food for the table!

      They just had Loch Lomond on BBC...bob

    • Trish_M profile image

      Tricia Mason 7 years ago from The English Midlands

      Sounds as if my Dad and my brother could have done with some of those, when we used to go on holiday to Scotland ~ and they spent every evening fishing, while my Mum tested me on my revision :)

    • diogenes profile image

      diogenes 7 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Hi Doreen: Knowing my luck as a fisherman,probably a cold! But they are dynamite for fish such as trout, salmon, etc., so they tell me....Bob

    • Doreen Beech profile image

      Doreen Beech 7 years ago from London

      Hi Bob, nice post. What would you expect to catch on the Hellgrammite lava? Is the bottom pic a Barbel?

    • profile image

      diogenese 7 years ago

      Tell the son to watch his fingers, they can draw blood! Bob

    • Jeremey profile image

      Jeremey 7 years ago from Arizona

      Nice, I have always been a curious one when it comes to bugs. I don't squash them under my foot, but put them on the hook for the fish to enjoy. My son will enjoy this one a lot. Thanks for a fun and interesting read.

    • diogenes profile image

      diogenes 7 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Hi Todd. You wouldn't be related to Robert (Bob) and Dea Wertz (deceased now)of Rockport and Southern Cal would you? Bob

    • profile image

      diogenese 7 years ago

      Hi John D., nothing like this in bloody Essex is there?

      AA Zavala: you remembered all this time? It musta bit ya! Bob

    • A.A. Zavala profile image

      Augustine A Zavala 7 years ago from Texas

      I saw this insect over twenty years ago and wondered what the hell it was. It looked fearsome. Now I know. Thanks for sharing.

    • johndwilliams profile image

      johndwilliams 7 years ago from Essex England

      Great Hub Thanks Bob - sounds like a real nasty critter

    • WillStarr profile image

      WillStarr 7 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Oh yes! It's a perfect name and it just rolls off the tongue.

    • profile image

      diogenese 7 years ago

      Thanks for visit, Will. Great name isn't it? Hellgrammites I mean...Bob

    • WillStarr profile image

      WillStarr 7 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      The best bait is whatever the fish are eating. I once fished a large farm pond loaded with bass with no luck until I noticed hundreds of tiny frogs hopping around. I hooked one and was almost instantly rewarded with a fabulous strike.

      Hellgrammites are great, natural baits.

    • profile image

      diogenese 7 years ago

      Hi Bobbi. Fish and a little chook is the only meat I eat these days. I love all fish, but live too far from the sea to fish...Thanks for comment Bob

    • profile image

      diogenese 7 years ago

      Good idea, by Hellgrammite! Bob

    • tlpoague profile image

      Tammy 7 years ago from USA

      I will have to keep this in mind next time I am salmon fishing. Thanks!

    • BobbiRant profile image

      BobbiRant 7 years ago from New York

      I really found this one interesting too. I used to fish a lot and I mostly thought of just worms on my hook. I learned a great deal here. I may retire and fish more again since food prices go up and up. I doubt some mercury laden fish are any more dangerous to eat then hormone laden meat. Good info about this creature.


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