Backswimmers

Photo by Mary Holland

While most insects in the Hemiptera order are land-dwelling (including stink bugs and assassin bugs), a few, such as these backswimmers, are aquatic. In the fall, when most insect hatches have ceased, backswimmers come into their own, sculling through the water with their oar-like hind legs, preying on all forms of life, including tiny fish. They breathe under the ice by using oxygen bubbles like mini aqualungs. Like most aquatic insects, backswimmers supercool their bodies by producing antifreeze compounds called cryoprotectants, which allow them to tolerate sub-freezing temperatures. When there’s a thin layer of ice on a pond and no snow covering it, you might want to peer through the ice to see if you can see any of these cold-hardy creatures. Just be sure you don’t fall in, as I did two seconds after this photograph was taken.

 
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