Sometimes called pond skaters or skimmers, the water striders are familiar insects to anyone who has cared to glance upon the still surface of a lake or pond, or a river’s quiet backwaters. Heck, you can even find water striders on puddles after a rain since many species can fly to new locations. They are some of the first insects to appear in the spring (having overwintered as adults) and the last to remain in the fall. Their amazing ability to travel across and live upon the water’s surface tension makes water striders fascinating creatures to observe.
Water striders, of which there are about 30 species in North America, belong to the order of insects known as true bugs (Hemiptera). While you may be in the habit of labeling any creepy crawly a “bug,” let it be known that the “true bugs” are a special group. This group also includes water boatmen, backswimmers, giant water bugs, stink bugs and ambush bugs, to name a few.
While the young of insects such as beetles, butterflies and flies all pupate before emerging as adults, true bugs do not. We know that a beetle larva is a grub, a butterfly larva is a caterpillar and a fly larva is a maggot. All look very different from what they will become after pupating. But the young of a true bug, such as a water strider, is known as a nymph and is a miniature version of its adult self. As the nymph grows it molts its outer shell, or exoskeleton, many times. Sometimes you can find an intact water strider exoskeleton on the water’s surface.
As true bugs, water striders possess piercing and sucking mouthparts. When an insect (dead or alive) falls onto the water’s surface, a water strider will skate over, grab the insect in its front legs and sink its beak into its prey. Then it will suck out its victim’s body fluids. Next time you swat a mosquito while out on the water, try dropping it in front of a water strider. You will have made a friend. Water striders are also known to grab mosquito larvae that rise to the water’s surface. This is one great bug.