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Predators That Walk On Water: Some Facts To Know About Water Skaters


This summer, many parents are spending long days at home with their children. NPR's Geoff Brumfiel is one of those parents, and he has found a new hobby to try and kill the time.

GEOFF BRUMFIEL, BYLINE: My house, Blursday (ph), 2020.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #1: What can we do? What can we do?

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #2: What can we do? What can we do?

BRUMFIEL: We're all driving each other a little nuts. Fortunately, even though we live in Washington, D.C., we have lots of parks and woods near our home.


BRUMFIEL: And so we've taken to going out and looking for bugs. It really started with my 3-year-old daughter.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #1: Daddy, look. Look.

BRUMFIEL: She just kept seeing little creatures I'd never noticed and some that I have.

What's that?

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #1: Skater. It's kind of like a skater. And it is a skater.

BRUMFIEL: Like water skaters, skaters or striders or scooters, whatever you want to call them. They're an insect we've all seen, but entomologist Kamal Gandhi says there's a lot going on there.

KAMAL GANDHI: So we all know they walk on water (laughter). A part of the reason how - why they can do that is because their legs are long, so that their body weight is somewhat equally distributed on the surface area.

BRUMFIEL: It means the skater can sit atop a pond or pool without breaking the water's delicate surface tension. It's such an effective way of getting around that water skaters are everywhere. Hundreds of different species live in almost every ecosystem on earth, even in the oceans.

GANDHI: They're probably one of those few rare insects that can be found in the marine habitats.

BRUMFIEL: Most are small...

GANDHI: But there are some gigantic ones as well in Southeast Asia.

BRUMFIEL: The biggest-known species can grow to be more than a foot across. I never realized this, but most water skaters are predators. They eat other little bugs living in the waters they patrol.

GANDHI: And they can actually - they're cannibalistic. They can feed on each other.

BRUMFIEL: Who knew? I mean, it sounds kind of dark. They seemed like such peaceful little creatures.

GANDHI: (Laughter) Yeah, they absolutely are peaceful little creatures. But there's a lot going on just underneath the surface, so to speak.

BRUMFIEL: Gandhi, who's at the University of Georgia, says these little skaters are just one example of an entire ecosystem right beneath our feet. So on these long summer days...

GANDHI: I say, go out. Go out and spend time with all the little things that run the world.

BRUMFIEL: Geoff Brumfiel, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Geoff Brumfiel works as a senior editor and correspondent on NPR's science desk. His editing duties include science and space, while his reporting focuses on the intersection of science and national security.
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