Earlier this summer I was walking the towpath of a small canal, wondering what I might discover in the heat of the late morning sun.
A young couple and their dog on a seldom used section of towpath trail – one of my favorite places
Nothing caught my fancy so I plopped down on a massive stone abutment, the remains of a 19th century aqueduct. The quiet, spring-fed canal water a few feet below soon showcased some of its many treasures. Miniature predators roamed the duckweed, lily pads and surface film. The activity was unpredictable and, at times chaotic – several species flying, darting, swimming, skating and swirling in all directions, in and out of sunshine and shadow.
Bluets are “pond damsels” and are common around still, sluggish waters and wetlands. They perch horizontally and hunt on the wing. Mosquitoes are fair game.
Damselfly (Bluet) at rest on a lily pad
Damselfly (female Bluet) laying eggs on aquatic vegetation
I once discovered a Water Strider while leading a group of 4th graders on a nature walk and paused to ask if anyone knew what it was. Water Strider!!! They all knew it immediately – a large group of 10-year-old kids, common knowledge. Inhabitants of still waters throughout North America, these fascinating insects dart around on the surface film with amazing speed, feeding on tiny aquatic organisms like mosquito larvae.
Water Strider (and reflection) on the surface film
Other common names include “Skaters” and “Jesus Bugs” (of course — walk on water!).
Water Strider on the surface film in bright, reflected light – underexposed for special effects
Oval, blackish Whirligig Beetles motor around on the surface film like wind-up toys on steroids. Compound eyes allow them to see above and below the film, a nifty adaptation for finding prey and avoiding head-on collisions with obstacles.
Whirligig Beetle (bottom center) pausing briefly on the surface film above a lily pad
A whirling Whirligig Beetle causing concentric circles in the surface film
Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.