EPOW - Ecology Picture of the Week

Each week a different image of our fascinating environment is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional ecologist.

10-16 May 2004

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Of Land, Water, and Air:
Water Boatman

cf. Corixa sp., Family Corixidae

Credit & Copyright: Dr. Bruce G. Marcot

Explanation:   This is one amazing bug -- a true bug, actually, of order Hemiptera.  It's a water boatman, a common aquatic insect found on ponds, rivers, lakes, pools, and even sewage tanks and birdbaths.  

It is adapted to multiple environments.  The small front legs are used to scoop algae and other food particles while the second set of legs are used to anchor it.  The third set of legs are evolved to serve as oars as it scoots across the surface tension of the water or dives below.  When it dives, it brings a bubble of air with it along its ventral surface, by which to breath underwater.

Water boatmen can reproduce prodigiously and fly to disperse from their natal sites, often landing near bright lights at night in large numbers.  This is truly an organism that has mastered land, water, and air.

This specimen came to visit my backyard as I ran a summertime experiment after dusk to determine which insects are attracted to long-wave or to short-wave ultraviolet light.  The boatman seemed to select the long-wave light.  

Many fish including trout consume boatmen, and flyfishers tie flies in their image by which to lure fish to the frying pan.  In Mexico, some people consume a species of water boatman in all its life stages.  Water boatmen also have been used as the subject of toxicology studies to determine the chemical toxicity effects on aquatic organisms.  A diverse organism, indeed.

Next week's picture:  Decline of the Vultures

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