What Do Water Striders Eat: A Fascinating Glimpse into Their Diet

Water striders are fascinating insects that thrive on the surface of water, known by various names such as water spiders, water skeeters, or pond skaters. Thanks to their unique ability to take advantage of water’s surface tension, they can skate on water, making them a captivating sight to observe.

You might be curious about the dietary habits of these intriguing creatures. Water striders mainly feed on small invertebrates that get caught in the water’s surface film. As carnivores, they use their shorter front legs to grab their prey while their second and third sets of legs allow them to skate smoothly across the surface. With a stealthy “meat tenderizer” method, these insects efficiently capture and consume their prey, including insects and other small water-dwelling creatures. So the next time you see these amazing insects skimming on the water, you’ll know the vital role they play in the aquatic ecosystem.

General Overview

Water striders, also known as Gerridae, belong to the Family Gerridae within the order Hemiptera, commonly referred to as true bugs. These insects are a unique species of heteroptera that have adapted to life on the water’s surface.

So, what do water striders eat? As part predator and part scavenger, these insects feed on a variety of prey. Examples include small insects that get trapped on the water’s surface, like mosquitoes and fallen ants. They can also forage in fast-flowing regions of currents where prey capture rates are highest source.

You might wonder how water striders can move effortlessly on water. Thanks to water-repellant hairs on their hind and middle legs and velvety hairs on their bodies, they are able to skate on the surface of the water source. Their long, slender legs distribute their weight evenly, allowing them to keep their balance and flow with the water movement source.

Here are some key features of water striders:

  • They belong to the Family Gerridae and are a species of Heteroptera.
  • They are part predator and part scavenger.
  • Their diet consists of small insects trapped on the water’s surface.
  • Water-repellant and velvety hairs allow them to skate on water.

In summary, water striders are fascinating insects that have adapted to living on the water’s surface. Their unique physical attributes help them hunt and scavenge for prey, making them efficient predators in their ecosystem.

Physical Adaptations

Hydrophobic Legs

Water striders have unique legs that allow them to effortlessly float on water. Their legs are covered in tiny, hydrophobic hairs which repel water. These microscopic hairs prevent the water strider’s legs from breaking the water surface tension, enabling them to walk on water. Here are some features of their hydrophobic legs:

  • Tiny hairs repelling water
  • Legs not breaking water surface tension

Feeding Adaptations

When it comes to feeding, water striders are well-equipped too. They have specialized mouthparts designed to pierce their prey and extract their body fluids. Their front legs are used to detect and capture prey, as they have extra-sensitive taste receptors. Some feeding adaptations are:

  • Specialized mouthparts for piercing prey
  • Front legs with sensitive taste receptors for detecting prey

Movement Adaptations

Water striders are known for their ability to move quickly and efficiently on the water surface. They use their legs as paddles and their wings to propel them forward, allowing them to move rapidly without much effort. Their legs are also used for steering, helping the water strider change direction and navigate through obstacles. Here’s a summary of their movement adaptations:

  • Legs as paddles for propulsion
  • Wings for added speed
  • Legs used for steering

To give you a better understanding of water striders’ physical adaptations, let’s take a look at this comparison table:

Adaptation Function Example
Hydrophobic Legs Float on water Tiny hairs repelling water
Feeding Adaptations Capture and consume prey Piercing mouthparts, front legs with taste receptors
Movement Adaptations Fast and efficient movement Paddle-like legs, wings for propulsion, steering with legs

Now that you know more about the physical adaptations of water striders, you can better appreciate how these fascinating creatures are perfectly suited for their water-dwelling lifestyle.

Diet and Prey

Primary Sources of Food

Water striders primarily feed on various small invertebrates found on the water surface. You might see them eating things like:

  • Mosquito larvae: These are commonly found in stagnant water bodies and serve as a primary food source for water striders.
  • Algae: Water striders may consume algae when other food sources are scarce.
  • Dead floating animals: Occasionally, water striders may scavenge on dead insects or other small creatures that have become trapped on the water surface.

For example, if you were to observe a water strider closely, you might notice it capturing mosquito larvae in its grasp or searching for tiny invertebrates on floating plants.

Predator Interaction

Although water striders are predators in their own right, they must also be cautious of their own predators. Here are some predators that water striders should be wary of:

  • Fish: Fish, such as trout or sunfish, will eat water striders if they get the chance.
  • Birds: Some birds, like kingfishers or herons, might snatch water striders from the surface.
  • Spiders: Certain water-dwelling spiders may hunt for water striders in their environment.
  • Water scorpion: This aquatic invertebrate can also prey on water striders.

To prevent predation, water striders must be alert and quick to move, using their long legs to swiftly skim across the water’s surface. This helps maintain their position as both predator and prey in the ecosystem.

Habitat and Distribution

Geographical Distribution

Water striders, amazing insects that can walk on the surface of the water, are found across the globe, mostly in the Northern Hemisphere. In North America, you will likely come across these fascinating creatures in various aquatic habitats. They live in a variety of freshwater environments, ranging from creeks to vernal pools.

Specific Habitats

Water striders thrive in diverse aquatic habitats, such as:

  • Ponds
  • Lakes
  • Pools
  • Freshwater streams
  • Creeks
  • Vernal pools
  • Mud puddles

These insects possess unique adaptations that enable them to take advantage of the surface tension on water. By distributing their weight across their long legs, water striders can glide effortlessly over water without falling underwater. This impressive ability allows them to hunt for small insects and other prey on the water’s surface. You can easily spot them skimming the surface of a pond or a pool, searching for their next meal.

Lifecycle and Reproduction

Lifecycle

Water striders, belonging to the Gerridae family, are fascinating insects capable of walking on water surfaces. Their lifecycle consists of three stages: egg, nymph, and adult. The nymph stage resembles the adult form, but it is smaller and lacks developed wings.

In most species, like the common Gerris and Aquarius remigis, nymphs go through five developmental stages known as instars. During each instar, the nymph sheds its exoskeleton and grows larger. Nymphs can be found sharing the same water surface with adult pond skaters, feeding on similar prey such as larvae and tadpoles.

Reproduction

Reproduction in water striders typically occurs during the warmer seasons. Males exhibit unique behaviors, such as guarding territories and performing courtship displays to attract females. An important feature in water strider reproduction is the presence of a genital shield in females, an adaptation that enables control over mating.

Mating takes place on the water surface, and after the process, females lay their eggs on submerged plants. The duration of development from egg to adult varies among species, taking roughly 3-4 weeks. The adult lifespan of a water strider is about one season, making the complete life cycle approximately a few months long.

In conclusion, the lifecycle and reproduction of water striders are well-adapted to their unique habitats, ensuring their continuous presence despite seasonal changes.

Role in the Ecosystem

Water striders play a crucial role in maintaining the balance of their aquatic ecosystems. They primarily feed on insects and other small invertebrates that fall or live on the water’s surface. By doing so, they help control insect populations, contributing to the overall health of their habitats.

As predators, water striders also serve as food for various animals like birds and fish. This enables a flow of energy in the ecosystem, as they move nutrients and energy from their prey up the food chain. In turn, this supports the growth of vegetation and influences the availability of resources for other organisms.

Water striders exhibit several adaptations allowing them to thrive in their environments. Their lightweight bodies and hydrophobic legs enable them to glide on the water surface effortlessly. This allows them to stay afloat while hunting for prey and avoid predators.

Comparing their ecological impact with other insects, water striders:

Feature Water Striders Other Aquatic Insects
Food Source Insects, invertebrates Vegetation, detritus, microorganisms
Predators Fish, birds Fish, birds, other insects
Role in Ecosystem Predators, nutrient transporters Detritivores, herbivores, nutrient recycling

To sum up, water striders play a vital role in maintaining the balance of aquatic ecosystems by controlling insect populations, providing food for larger animals, and facilitating energy transfer within their habitats.

Human Interaction and Study

In recent years, scientists have taken an interest in studying water striders. These tiny aquatic insects are well-known for their ability to “walk” on the surface of the water. They do this by using their long legs to distribute their weight evenly, enabling them to float on the water’s surface tension.

Water striders are fascinating creatures, and they are an important part of the food chain. They provide a valuable food source for many other organisms, such as birds and fish. Their diet mainly consists of insects that fall onto the water’s surface, as well as larvae and other small invertebrates.

When it comes to human interaction, most of the attention that water striders receive is from researchers studying their unique behaviors. One of the most intriguing aspects of their behavior is their ability to communicate with each other.

Indeed, these insects use vibrations to communicate with one another. When a water strider moves across the surface of the water, it creates ripples. These ripples serve as a communication medium, allowing other water striders to detect and respond to the vibrations.

Pros and Cons of Studying Water Striders:

Pros:

  • They provide valuable insights into the world of insect communication.
  • They can serve as indicators of water quality and environmental health.

Cons:

  • They are sensitive to changes in their environment, making them susceptible to habitat loss.

In conclusion, water striders play an important role in our understanding of aquatic ecosystems and insect communication. By studying them, scientists can learn more about their fascinating behavior and better understand the health of our water sources.

Notable Species

Water striders, also known as water skippers, skimmers, Jesus bugs, or water skeeters, are fascinating insects that can effortlessly glide on the water’s surface. They belong to the family Gerridae and use their water-repellent legs to skate on top of the water. Among the many types of water striders, some species deserve special mention.

Aquarius remigis: This is the most common and conspicuous water strider species found in North America. They have velvety hairs on their bodies that allow them to stay dry even though they spend all their time on water1.

Halobates: Members of the genus Halobates are unique because they are ocean-dwelling water striders. They have special adaptations to live on the open sea’s surface, such as the ability to withstand saltwater and cope with harsh environments2.

In comparison:

Species Habitat Leg Adaptations Body Adaptations
Aquarius remigis Freshwater Water-repellent Velvety hairs
Halobates Saltwater (ocean) Water-repellent Adapted for saltwater

Remember that not all water strider species are created equal; some possess unique adaptations that allow them to thrive in their specific environments. As you learn more about these amazing creatures, don’t forget that there is always more to discover about the diverse world of water striders.

Footnotes

  1. https://mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/field-guide/water-striders

  2. https://www.britannica.com/animal/water-strider

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Water Striders from South Africa

 

Subject: Strange critters in my pool
Location: Durban, South Africa
November 12, 2013 9:32 am
Good day.
I’ve got a bit of a problem in my pool at the moment.
I’ve more or less always had these strange 4 legged creatures in my pool, but no more than a dozen or so usually.
Description:
4 legged water insect
Stays consistently on the surface of the water (minuscus).
EXTREMELY fast moving across the surface of the water.
Mostly avoids humans. If I walk along the edges of the pool they usually see me and move away.
Very difficult to catch, tried with a pool net, one, they’re fast, two, when I actually catch them, they jump out of the net.
The adults I suppose, are no longer than an inch in length.
I’ve decided to post this because as I said, usually I’d see a dozen or two of them.
Today I went to my pool and I kid you not, I must have seen about 500 to 1000 baby versions of these critters in there. The babies are no bigger than the nail on my pinky finger, and even smaller actually.
I’d to know what they are. So I can do a bit more reading on them, figure out why they’re in my pool, and find a way to remove them.
And I’ve used you’re site successfully before to identify other weird things in my house.
The closest I found while googling was a water scorpion, but if you look at my pictures attached, you will see that these things don’t have any tail of any sort.
Information about Durban. Warm, moderately humid. Summers are 30 to 35 degrees Celsius. Winters are 10 to 20 degrees Celsius.
In summer we do have alotta thunderstorms. Winters are largely dry.
Looking forward for some assistance on the matter.
PS I do photography as a hobby and it pains me that my SLR was dead today so I had to use my cell phone camera instead. I think the photo quality is still good enough for you to inspect the salient characteristics of the bugs.
Thank you and kind regards
Signature: Avi

Water Striders
Water Striders

Dear Avi,
Thanks for your thorough account.  These are Water Striders in the family Gerridae, and according to BugGuide, they are also called “Pond Skaters, Jesus Bugs, Water Skippers.”
  They feed on insects that fall onto the surface of the water.  If you get your SLR repaired, we would love better photos.

Water Striders
Water Striders

 

Letter 2 – Water Striders from Ireland

 

mystery insect
Location: South of Ireland
September 23, 2011 7:16 pm
Could you please identify the insect in the attaced photo. There are many of them in a river near my home in Ireland.
Signature: David

Water Striders

Hi David,
Water Striders are such common insects on ponds, lakes, streams and slow moving rivers, that we cannot understand why they are so underrepresented on our site.  Because the spread of their legs distributes their weight evenly across a greater surface area, Water Striders are able to skate across the water without breaking the surface.  Water Striders feed on small insects that fall onto the water’s surface.  One group of ocean dwelling Water Striders contains the only true pelagic insects that are found far out to sea on the open ocean.

Letter 3 – Water Treader or Broad Shouldered Water Striders?

 

veliidae?
hi,
Two pictures, from two different days, of different-looking critters on the surface of the pond in the shallows. I’m guessing these are all broad-shouldered water striders, but the mating pair is a little less clear. Could they be something else? best
greg

Hi Greg,
We do not possess the necessary skills to take this to the species level, but we agree with your identification in the Family Veliidae, the Broad Shouldered Water Striders. The coloration of the mating pair does not match anything on BugGuide. We haven’t bothered Eric Eaton in a bit, so we will see if he has an opinion. Here is what Eric wrote: “You are probably correct, but aquatic insects, especially the more ‘minor’ families, are not creatures I am terribly familiar with. There is at least one other family closely related to Veliidae that you might want to check. Eric”

Ed Note: Water Treaders perhaps (11/04/2006)
In trying to identify another water creature, we discovered the Water Treaders in the genus Mesovelia on BugGuide and now believe that to be the correct identification on these insects.

Authors

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  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

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