Water Striders

Aquarius remigis; also species in the genus Gerris
Family

Gerridae (water striders) in the order Hemiptera (true bugs)

Description

Water-repellant hairs on the hind and middle legs allow these nimble insects to skate on the surface of the water. Velvety hairs on their bodies allow them to stay dry though they spend all their time on water.

There are several species of water striders in North America. The most common and conspicuous one in our area is the large water strider (Aquarius remigis, also called Gerris remigis). It has an elongated body and is dark brown or blackish on the top and bottom, with a whitish or silvery stripe along each side. The legs are long and thin and are generally spread far apart; the hind and middle pairs of legs are used for “skating” across the water surface. Adults usually lack wings.

Sometimes the first thing you notice are the small round shadows they create on the substrate beneath them, caused by the small dimples their feet make on the surface film of the water.

Water striders in the genus Gerris are smaller, less than ½ inch long.

Size

Adult length (not counting legs): ½ to ¾ inch (A. remigis).

Habitat and conservation

These fascinating, harmless insects can be found in nearly any aquatic habitat, including ponds, lakes, swamps, ditches, creeks, streams and rivers. They generally prefer places where the water is calm, but you can also see them jerking their way upstream, against a current. When it is not mating season, they commonly collect in large numbers yet quickly scatter to individual shelters when alarmed.

Foods

Although also called “water spiders,” they are true bugs (related to squash and assassin bugs, aphids and cicadas), and thus have sucking mouthparts. As predators they eat other insects, alive or dead. Since they live on the surface, they often eat land insects and spiders that accidentally fall into the water and struggle helplessly on the surface. Water striders detect their ripples. Sometimes several striders surround the unfortunate insect, sharing the meal. They also eat mosquito larvae.

image of Water Striders Distribution Map
Distribution in Missouri

Statewide.

Life cycle

Water striders lay eggs on rocks or aquatic vegetation. Upon hatching, they undergo “incomplete metamorphosis,” where the nymph stages pretty much resemble the adults (only smaller). The final molt produces an adult that is sexually mature (capable of reproduction). Other insects that undergo incomplete metamorphosis are grasshoppers and box elder bugs.

Human connections

Usually, when we think of the psychological effect nature has on us, we focus on strikingly beautiful or noble qualities. But there’s something to be said for the quirky and bizarre. These common insects “walk on water”—and “amazement” has value for us, too.

Ecosystem connections

Water striders are predators that specialize in eating land insects trapped on the water’s surface. But many birds feed on water striders, returning the nutrients gained from land insects back to land ecosystems. Apparently, fish find water striders distasteful and rarely eat them.