Australian Biological Resources Study

Australian Faunal Directory


Regional Maps


Compiler and date details

October 2010 - Dr G. Cassis, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW


The Hebridae, commonly called velvet water bugs or sphagnum bugs, are a cosmopolitan gerromorphan family. Nine genera and 221 species are recognised worldwide (Andersen 1981; 1982, Slater 1982; Zoological Record 1980–1994; Andersen & Weir 2004a; Henry 2009; Polhemus, J.T. pers. comm.).

Hebrids are small and stout, usually dull brown, grey or green and range in length from 1 to 3 mm. The body is covered with a velvety hydrofuge pile. The head is distinctly extended in front of the eyes, with prominent ventral lobes. The bucculae form a groove that houses the labium. The eyes are small, globular and coarsely faceted and two ocelli are present. The antennae appear 5-segmented and segments III and IV are slender. The labium is 4-segmented, long, and usually reaches the metacoxae. The pronotum has a narrow collar and raised humeral angles. The metathoracic glands open onto the posterior half of the metasternum and are without evaporative areas. The legs are short and the coxal cavities are widely separated. The tarsi are 2-segmented, with the first segment very short and the second segment much longer. The pretarsus is inserted apically, the claws are very long, and dorsal and ventral arolia are present. Wing polymorphism is common. The venation of the forewings is greatly reduced, the apical half lacks distinct veins and the basal half has one or two closed cells. The abdomen is relatively long. Abdominal scent orifices are present in larvae and adults. The female ovipositor is reduced. The male genital segments are reduced, the claspers are almost symmetrical, and the endosoma is bilaterally symmetrical (Andersen 1981, 1982; Slater 1982; Dolling 1991).

Hebridae are found in semiaquatic habitats, particularly in moist detritus or amongst floating plants (Polhemus & Polhemus 1988). Unlike other gerromorphans which favour the water surface, hebrids prefer marginal aquatic habitats. Dolling (1991) reports that British species live in wet moss and on the margins of still waters. Lansbury (1990) reports that Hebrus monteithii Lansbury is found in rainforest litter in Queensland. Merragata hackeri Hungerford is quite common on the surface of stagnant pools in Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland and Northern Territory. Hebrus axillaris Horváth is found in marginal vegetation alongside ponds, lakes and streams (Carver et al. 1991). Hebrids are predators and scavengers, and are known to feed on springtails and other small arthropods (Bennett & Cook 1981). They lay their eggs on moss or algae (Hungerford 1920; Polhemus & Chapman 1979). Cobben (1968) described hebrid egg morphology, embryology and eclosion.

Reuter (1912) included the Hebridae and the Mesoveliidae within the superfamily Reduvioidea (= series Anonychia). Lundblad (1933) and Drake & Chapman (1958) recognised that hebrids have gerromorphan affinities. Andersen (1981) gave a cladistic classification of the family, recognising two subfamilies, the cosmopolitan Hebrinae and the monogeneric Hyrcaninae (Oriental Region). In the same study, and subsequently, Andersen (1982) demonstrated that the Hebridae are monophyletic, based on apomorphies of the head, mesoscutellum, pretarsus, and genitalia. He suggested that the Hebridae are the sister group of all the gerromorphans except the Mesoveliidae (Andersen 1979, 1982).

A number of regional taxonomic works are available on the Hebridae. Drake & Harris (1943) and Drake & Chapman (1958) reviewed the Western Hemisphere hebrids. Polhemus & Chapman (1979) described the Californian hebrids including the diverse Hebrus Curtis fauna. Polhemus (1984) gave a key to the North American species and Polhemus & Polhemus (1988) catalogued the North American fauna of three genera and 17 species. Froeschner (1981) catalogued the hebrids from Ecuador. Polhemus & McKinnon (1983) described new species of Hebridae from the Americas. Cobben (1982) gave an account of some of the Afrotropical hebrids. Linnavuori (1980, 1981) described numerous new species of Hebrus from the Afrotropical Region. Polhemus & Polhemus (1989) described two new species from mangrove swamps in Singapore. Zettel (1998) revised the genus Hyrcanus Distant from Southeastern Asia.

Lansbury (1990) revised the Australian Hebridae, recognising two genera (Hebrus and Merragata White) and five species. He gave detailed descriptions of all species, including three new Hebrus species. Most Australian species are known from tropical Queensland and the Northern Territory, although H. axillaris is also known from temperate south-eastern Australia, South Australia and Tasmania. Andersen's (1981) subgeneric classification of Hebrus is used in the Catalogue, although both Cobben (1982) and Lansbury (1990) indicated that it is difficult to assign the Australian Hebrus species to subgenera. Andersen & Weir (2004a, 2004b) revised the Australian Hebridae, including their placement within the Gerromorpha and a key to genera and species of this family.Three genera and six species are now recognised.


General References

Andersen, N.M. 1979. Phylogenetic inference as applied to a study of the evolutionary diversification of semiaquatic bugs (Hemiptera: Gerromorpha). Systematic Zoology 28: 554-578

Andersen, N.M. 1981. Semiaquatic bugs: phylogeny and classification of the Hebridae (Heteroptera: Gerromorpha) with revisions of Timasius, Neotimasius and Hycranus. Systematic Entomology 6: 377-412

Andersen, N.M. 1982. The Semiaquatic Bugs (Hemiptera, Gerromorpha). Phylogeny, adaptations, biogeography and classification. Denmark : Scandinavian Science Press Entomonograph Vol. 3 455 pp.

Andersen, N.M. & Weir, T.A. 2004. Australian Water Bugs. Their Biology and Identification (Hemiptera-Heteroptera, Gerromorpha & Nepomorpha). Entomonographen Denmark : Apollo Books Vol. 14 344 pp.

Andersen, N.M. & Weir, T.A. 2004. Mesoveliidae, Hebridae, and Hydrometridae of Australia (Hemiptera: Heteroptera: Gerromorpha), with a reanalysis of the phylogeny of semiaquatic bugs. Invertebrate Systematics 18: 467-522

Bennett, D.V. & Cook, E.F. 1981. The semiaquatic Hemiptera of Minnesota (Hemiptera: Heteroptera). Technical Bulletin. Agricultural Experiment Station, University of Minnesota 332: 1-59

Carver, M., Gross, G.F. & Woodward, T.E. 1991. Hemiptera (bugs, leafhoppers, cicadas, aphids, scale insects, etc.) [with contributions by Cassis, G., Evans, J.W., Fletcher, M.J., Hill, L., Lansbury, I., Malipatil, M.B., Monteith, G.B., Moulds, M.S., Polhemus, J.T., Slater, J.A., Štys, P., Taylor, K.L., Weir, T.A. & Williams, D.J.]. pp. 429-509 in CSIRO (ed.). The Insects of Australia. A textbook for students and research workers. Melbourne : Melbourne University Press Vol. 1 xiii 542 pp.

Cobben, R.H. 1968. Evolutionary Trends in Heteroptera. Part I. Eggs, architecture of the shell, gross embryology and eclosion. No. 151. Wageningen : Centre for Agricultural Publishing and Documentation Mededeling 475 pp.

Cobben, R.H. 1982. The hebrid fauna of the Ethiopian Kaffa Province, with considerations on species grouping (Hebridae, Heteroptera). Tijdschrift voor Entomologie 125: 1-24

Dolling, W.R. 1991. The Hemiptera. Oxford : Oxford University Press ix 274 pp.

Drake, C.J. & Chapman, H.C. 1958. New Neotropical Hebridae, including a catalogue of the American species. Journal of the Washington Academy of Sciences 48: 317-326

Drake, C.J. & Harris, H.M. 1943. Notas sobre Hebridae del Hemisferio Occidental. Notas del Museo de La Plata, Buenos Aires (Zoologia) 8: 41-58

Froeschner, R.C. 1981. Heteroptera or true bugs of Ecuador: a partial catalog. Smithsonian Contributions to Zoology 1981(322): iv 1-147

Henry, T.J. 2009. Biodiversity of the Heteroptera. pp. 223–263 in Foottit, R.G. & Adler P.H. (eds). Insect Biodiversity: Science and Society. Oxford : Wiley-Blackwell.

Hungerford, H.B. 1920. The biology and ecology of aquatic and semiaquatic Hemiptera. University of Kansas Science Bulletin 11: 1-328

Lansbury, I. 1990. Notes on the Hebridae (Insecta: Heteroptera-Hemiptera) of Australia with descriptions of three new species. Transactions of the Royal Society of South Australia 114: 55-66

Linnavuori, R.E. 1980. Hemiptera of the Sudan, with remarks on some species of the adjacent countries 8. Additions and corrections. Biogeography. Acta Entomologica Fennica 36: 1-53

Linnavuori, R.E. 1981. Hemiptera of Nigeria, with remarks on some species of the adjacent countries 1. The aquatic and semiaquatic families, Saldidae and Leptopodidae. Acta Entomologica Fennica 37: 1-39

Lundblad, O. 1933. Zur Kenntnis der aquatilen und semiaquatilen Hemipteren von Sumatra, Java und Bali auf Grund des Materials der Deutschen Limnologischen Sunda-Expedition, nebst Revision einiger anderer, indoaustralischer Arten. Archiv für Hydrobiologie 12: 1-195, 263-489

Polhemus, D.A. & Polhemus, J.T. 1988. Family Hebridae Amyot and Serville, 1843: the velvet water bugs. pp. 152-155 in Henry, T.J. & Froeschner, R.C. (eds). Catalog of the Heteroptera, or True Bugs, of Canada and the Continental United States. Leiden : E.J. Brill xix 958 pp.

Polhemus, J.T. 1984. Aquatic and semiaquatic Hemiptera. pp. 231-260 in Merrit, R.W. & Cummins, K.W. (eds). An Introduction to the Aquatic Insects of North America. Dubuque : Kendall-Hunt.

Polhemus, J.T. & Chapman, H.C. 1979. Family Hebridae/velvet water bugs. pp. 34-38 in Menke, A.S. (ed.). The Semiaquatic and Aquatic Hemiptera of California (Heteroptera: Hemiptera). Berkeley : University of California Press.

Polhemus, J.T. & McKinnon, C.N. 1983. Notes on the Hebridae of the Western Hemisphere with descriptions of two new species (Heteroptera: Hemiptera). Proceedings of the Entomological Society of Washington 85: 110-115

Polhemus, J.T. & Polhemus, D.A. 1989. A new mesoveliid genus and two new species of Hebrus (Heteroptera: Mesoveliidae, Hebridae) from intertidal habitats in southeast Asian mangrove swamps. Raffles Bulletin of Zoology 37: 73-82

Reuter, O.M. 1912. Zur generischen Teilung der paläarktischen und nearktischen Acanthiden. Öfversigt af Finska Vetenskaps-Societetens Förhandlingar 54(12): 1-24

Slater, J.A. 1982. Hemiptera. pp. 417-447 in Parker, S.P. (ed.). Synopsis and Classification of Living Organisms. New York : McGraw Hill Book Co.

Zettel, H. 1998. [A taxonomic revision of the genus Hyrcanus Distant 1910 (Heteroptera: Hebridae) with the new description of four species from India, Thailand, Laos and China.] Eine taxonomische Revision der Gattung Hyrcanus Distant 1910 (Heteroptera: Hebridae) mit Neubeschreibungen von vier Arten aus Indien, Thailand, Laos und China. Stapfia 55: 585-606


History of changes

Note that this list may be incomplete for dates prior to September 2013.
Published As part of group Action Date Action Type Compiler(s)
05-Dec-2012 05-Dec-2012 MODIFIED
15-Aug-2012 15-Aug-2012 MODIFIED
20-Oct-2010 20-Oct-2010 MODIFIED
12-Feb-2010 (import)