Swimming with Insects (Aquatic Beetles, Coleoptera(?))

tiny almost translucent insects with black heads swim with hairy outstretched arms

Tiny swimming beetles (?) make their rounds in the water over barely submerged, decaying leaf. (i)

I like to say every time I go out, I photograph something new. Strictly speaking, that’s not true, in the sense that I don’t always find a new bug or tiny flower or what have you. But usually I photograph an “old” bug in a different way, so the experience seems new and fresh and rewarding. Although strictly speaking, I probably forget things and a thorough trip through my archives would reveal a decidedly less varied group of photographs. Strictly speaking aside, I enjoy it either way, but I find more and more that a new subject really inspires me. So it happened when I went “swimming” with aquatic insects.

Okay, I didn’t swim (and I’m a poor swimmer and something of an aquaphobe truth be told), and I didn’t even step foot in the water (but that last part had to do with getting the photographs, not fear, as I’ll explain below). I don’t even remember what I was looking for exactly; usually the spot I was in is a grand stage for all sorts of dragonflies and their attendant patrolling, tussling, and egg-laying. Damselflies too, although they tend to be rising from the weeds and eclosing, at rest, or egg-laying. But if memory serves (and boy does it not, lately), I think I was attempting futilely to photography what I will tentatively call whirligig beetles. That endeavor didn’t get me far, but while I was awkwardly bending over the water and still falling miserably short of being able to focus on a whirligig, I noticed this little dead leaf, and lo’ and behold, what tiny wonders did I find.

decaying barely submerged leaf with water beetles sringtail true bug and eggs

The ruins of a tiny Atlantis: a multitude of creatures including water beetles (?), a true bug, a springtail and unidentified eggs(?) occupy a decaying, mostly (but barely) submerged leaf.

I don’t remember noticing the springtail (toward the left of the above photo) or what looks like tiny yellow eggs (at the bottom edge, center). I think I picked up on the little bug on the red piece of plant debris, but I did not pay it too much mind because the fluid motion of the little nearly-translucent swimmers captured all my attention.

They were fascinating little things that always seemed to stay above the disintegrating leaf, and as far as I could see, were always underwater (as opposed to swimming on the surface). They used pairs of legs on each side to make quick fluidly efficient strokes to glide about. I noticed that the swimming legs are actually pairs after seeing the photographs on my computer screen; there are also a pair of short lines that suggest they have six legs even if two aren’t for swimming. I had never seen or noticed anything quite like them, and being so small, like little sesame seeds, it was likely a combination of long hours of bug-hunting and dumb luck that I noticed them at all. Fortune favors the dumb and the lucky apparently, but it’s good to be rich if all else fails, right? Anyway, it was a great find for me; now I only wish I knew what kind of bug they are. My first attempt to identify them has come up empty. I’m calling them “water beetles,” but I really don’t know what they are; any help in identifying them would be much appreciated.

As for photographing them, it was a bit tricky trying to get the right angle so there would not be a cloudy sheen on the water. The “grand stage” photo above unfortunately has a bit of that haze that I was unable to really remove in post-processing. As the photos go along though, I found somewhat better angles.

decaying leaf submerged just under water surface with water beetles and true bug

An aquatic micro-scene: the springtail has vanished, but the water beetles and the bug remain on their little submerged leaf island.

decaying leaf submerged just under water surface with water beetles and true bug

An aquatic micro-scene continues: the water beetles showed no interest in leaving but the bug was on the move (though later returned to his red-brown perch).

The difficulty in getting these photos was not only in fending off the glare or dealing with the beetles motion (for the higher magnifications shots), but also getting close enough. Originally when I was failing to shoot the whirligigs, I was laying on a boulder that was partly in the pond, doing my best to maintain a balance where I could still control my ability to focus and, you know, the general function of my limbs. Needless to say, I probably looked a bit odd and was certainly straining the limits of my coordination and strength. That wasn’t going to get me close enough to the leaf, so in an almost as odd and straining position, I had to squat and balance on smaller rocks while hunching over the scene. I might have got the same result by getting my elbows and knees in the muck at the pond’s edge, but you know, I didn’t want to, first off, and (not far behind, honest), I did not want to disturb the little micro-habitat. Tsunami by boot toe seems like an awful way to go, and if possible I like to tread lightly. You never know what wonders might be underfoot. Or water.

decaying leaf submerged just under water surface with water beetles and true bug

A little closer: water beetles and a true bug on a decaying leaf near the water’s surface.

tiny almost translucent insects with black heads swim with hairy outstretched arms

Tiny swimming beetles (?) make their rounds in the water over barely submerged, decaying leaf. (ii)

tiny almost translucent insects with black heads swim with hairy outstretched arms

Tiny swimming beetles (?) make their rounds in the water over barely submerged, decaying leaf. (iii)

 

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6 thoughts on “Swimming with Insects (Aquatic Beetles, Coleoptera(?))

  1. Amazing shots, Michael! I appreciate how difficult it is getting these shots on this scale. It is also amazing how much lif there is going on in shuch a small area of the pond!

    1. Thanks, Pete! It really is amazing, and it makes me want to explore aquatic wildlife macro more. I’ve seen some other photographers’ underwater insect shots and there are some very interesting animals out there.

  2. What you found on that one floating leaf is awesome! I love looking close-up at things and if I can get a picture, all the better. Most of life on earth is small, after all!

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