Tooele Transcript Bulletin – News in Tooele, Utah

August 20, 2015
Survival and hunting capabilities enable backswimmers in several ways

Generally found in still bodies of fresh water, the backswimmer is an aquatic insect that is commonly found thriving among marshes, ponds, lakes, and sometimes swimming pools. Backswimmers were given their names for the habit of swimming on their backs, but are also referred to as water bees or water wasps because of to their inflicting bites, which to humans are similar to bee stings. Humans are usually bitten by backswimmers when they try to remove them from the water by hand or otherwise mishandle them. Though their inflictions are painful, they are neither deadly nor poisonous.

When backswimmers are spotted, they are most recognized for their long oar-like legs, which enable them to swim in fast bursts of speed. This alone is an advantage. Along with their defensive piercing mechanism with their sharp proboscis, the backswimmer is additionally equipped with other survival techniques, including color camouflage, wings for dispersing to new habitats and their own breathing technique so they may remain submerged for long periods of time. These advantages make backswimmers skillful evaders from predators and malicious hunters for other water inhabitants.

Backswimmers are known to devour tadpoles, smaller fishes, and aquatic or drowning insects, which they find by sensing the water ripples of the struggling creature. Hunting by using their speed to rush their prey then grasping them by using their forelegs, backswimmers will restrain their prey then impale them with their beak-like mouthpart. After being pierced, the victimized creature is injected with a toxin that melts its insides, which are then sucked away and fed on by the backswimmer.

The body colorations of a backswimmer vary as there are several different species worldwide. Commonly, however, backswimmers possess two different body colors on each side of their bodies — one side intended to resemble the water’s surface and the other to resemble the bottom of the water, a great advantage when they’re going to the surface to breathe, pursue prey or are resting on the water’s bottom.

Because backswimmers swim on their backsides, it is their dark-colored underside that faces towards the surface. This makes them hard to distinguish to predators that are watching from the surface, as their dark colors purposely resemble the bottom of the water. As for their backsides, they are light-colored and are meant to resemble the surface of the water and sky. Because their pale backs face towards the bottom of the water when swimming, they can safely lurk the waters and can usually remain unseen from behind from both prey and predators.

Because backswimmers do not possess lungs, it is necessary that they return to the surface to breathe. However, backswimmers have a technique of remaining underwater for up to six hours by collecting and storing a bubble of air underneath their wings and at the tip of their abdomens. When backswimmers need to refresh their air supply, they simply float to the water’s surface to collect it, then will retreat back down into the depths. Other times they can be found floating on the surface or seen just right beneath the surface. In both cases, they are ready to retreat when approached or disturbed.

It is common for backswimmers to leave their habitat in order to search for a new one. They do this simply by getting out of the water and flying away. Backswimmers are known to do this several times when necessary, but will also leave the waters when looking to mate, which occurs out of the water. Male backswimmers attract mates by rubbing their front legs against their rostrum to create a sound. Mated females will return to the water to lay no more than ten eggs on submerged vegetation. Sometimes instead of simply laying their eggs on the vegetation, they will insert them into the leaves or stems.

Backswimmers are known to be attracted to lights. In swimming pools, one or more can be seen at times near the underwater lights. Backswimmers generally grow to be less than six-tenths of inch in length. Some species of backswimmers can be found swimming under the ice during the winter.

Taylor Lindsay is a writer and photographer of wildlife creatures big and small. She can be contacted at CritterChatter@live.com.

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