When I talk about this animal with many people it is often identified as a Water Spider, but that is incorrect as it is not a spider. Instead, this critter that can walk on water is a kind of INSECT– in the bug family–-called a Water Strider. Like other insects, it has three body parts–head, thorax and abdomen– 3 pairs of legs, and a pair of antennae. Of the more than 1600 species of Water Striders in the world, all but one lives in freshwater. Many, but not all, have wings and are good fliers, able to widely disperse. Perhaps this explains why you sometimes see them in a puddle. Ever wondered how they got there? Now you know!
Water Striders are also known as Pond Skaters and Jesus Bugs. When you see their long thin bodies skating around on the water’s surface, it looks like they only have 4 legs, but like all insects, they have 6–it’s just that the front legs are much shorter than the back ones and are usually drawn-up, much like those of a praying mantis. This pair is used for grabbing and maneuvering prey. The second pair of legs push them along while the last pair help them steer.
Water Striders are able to float on top of the water by using surface tension of the water. Their legs end in tufts of dense hairs that repel water and capture air, allowing them to skate across the surface of the water. Hairs on their also legs detect vibrations on the water, allowing them to find prey–this could be dead insects or invertebrates floating on the water, or live animals like mosquito larvae that they will catch and kill.
Males will sometimes tap the water with their legs, purposely causing vibrations. Know why they do this? It’s not to attract a female–it’s for a much more sinister purpose though it does involve the female. CLICK HERE to read about a mating ritual that surely is among the most bizarre in the animal kingdom.
Until then, here’s next week’s puzzler. Happy Saturday!