Naturespeak A naturalist's view of the world

September 23, 2009

What Would Gerridae Do?

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 12:42 pm

Don’t tell anyone, but I can walk on water. Mine is strictly a seasonal talent, mind you. I can only do it during the wintertime but my ability is real none-the-less. I happen to share this limited talent with a group of creatures called Water Striders. This group of insects restricts their water walking to the warm season only so you could say that we trade off talents so that we can cover the entire year. Oddly enough, their family name – Gerridae – is spelled exactly the same as my first name which is Gerry. You may think this coincidence, but I hardly think so. Beyond this remarkable set of similarities we share little else.

Water Striders have been called by many names. “Jesus Bug” is perhaps the most colorful, but they are often mistakenly called “Water Spiders.” They are neither divine or arachnoidal, however. They are simply true insects with six legs and three body parts plus an ability to defy gravity. Specifically Water Striders are classified as True Bugs. This means they have so-called half-wings with an inner hard and an outer soft portion, and they suck their food through a straw-like mouth. They share billing with the likes of stink bugs, box elder bugs, and the aquatic Giant Water Bugs.

Striders are aquatic insects but they can’t swim like their giant bug cousins. They are air breathers that live life on the delicate film at the surface of the water. Structurally they are adapted to this lifestyle by having four of their six legs elongated to distribute their weight. By so doing only limited contact is made with the meniscus layer of the water and the surface tension remains unbroken.  Should they accidentally break through this layer they would be trapped and suffer a drowning death. Life on the positive side of the surface allows them to skate about as if on ice and dine on other less fortunate insects that are ensnared by the water. they leap great distances like an Olympic skater if such a move is required to pounce on prey ( a move I have perfected during my seasonal water walking, by the way).

Their third pair of legs are reduced to grasping tools that look like tiny preying mantis appendages.  When a moth, or some other non-water creature, falls to the liquid surface, the striders seize it and proceed to suck it dry using their straw mouths. They are not restricted to live prey. Any dead thing will suffice as long as it has a juicy component. I caught this group of striders sipping the rotting slime off of a dead sunfish last year (see below). I’ll bet life doesn’t get any better than that, eh?

The striders off my Dollar Lake dock provided a great opportunity to get a closer look at my soul mates.  Apart from carrying on their daily business of water walking and sucking, they spent a good part of their time resting on the surface of the lily pads (see below).  If you look closely at this last shot you’ll notice a few things. First of all, there is a nymphal, or baby, strider in the center. Secondly you’ll see that one of the individuals has some red spots on it (look closer here). These are larval water mites hitching a ride. They will eventually drop off and carry on a completely aquatic life.

It was hard to tell if this parasitized water strider noticed his ruby-colored cargo. He showed no signs of irritation or annoyance and carried on as if nothing was amiss. Personally, I would be very irked. I guess a Jesus Bug can be much more forgiving.

4 Comments »

  1. Your writing style is wonderful! I got a good chuckle reading this post.

    I thought I had read somewhere once that water striders also have a water-repellent oil on their feet, which aided in their water-walking abilities. Is this true?

    Comment by Ellen — September 23, 2009 @ 2:13 pm

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