Wild Profile: Meet the water strider

An Ontario water strider perched on a lilypad By Brian Lasenby/Shutterstock

The water strider may be creepy-looking—why are your legs so long and spindly, bug?—but it’s also very cool. This bug walks across water. It achieves this miracle feat by perfectly distributing its weight across all six, widespread legs. The tips of each leg are covered in many minute, waterproof hairs. This forms a sort of thin film, just enough to support the bug’s weight—unless something heavier pierces the water’s surface.

Do water striders bite?

That’s everyone’s first question when they see the bugs. We get it: they’re not exactly cute. But the answer is no. At least, they don’t bite people. They are, however, excellent at snatching up prey, such as spiders and other, smaller insects. Resting on the lake, a water strider is almost invisible when it’s motionless, but if it senses a small disturbance at the surface of the water, it can rush forward and grab its clueless prey. It holds the bug with its front legs and uses stabby mouthparts to pierce the creature’s body. Then it sucks out the delicious fluids inside. If you’re grossed out, you should also keep in mind that a water strider helps control the pesky mosquito population; it eats mossie larvae.

Can water striders fly?

Some species can. Their wing length depends on their habitat. Species that spend more time in rough waters have shorter wings, since waves and turbulence would damage longer ones. Other species, such as those that live in temporary ponds—ponds that could disappear later in the summer, for example—have a winged stage, so that they can fly away before the water is gone. That said, you’re not likely to notice water striders flying around. More likely, you’ll spot them congregated in groups on calm waters. They arrive on the cottage scene as soon as the ice melts in spring, and hang around to mate in early summer. By October, the second generation of the season usually finds shelter under rocks near the water, and hibernates for the winter.

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