Water boatmen are aquatic bugs that live in ponds and slow-flowing streams. In the UK we have ‘Lesser’ and ‘Greater’ water boatmen. The Lesser water boatmen include the two families Corixidae and Pleidae; and the Greater water boatmen, includes the family Notonectidae.
You can tell the difference between the Lesser and Greater water boatmen by the way they swim with Greater water boatmen swimming on their backs and Lesser water boatmen swimming on their front.
|Greater Water boatman (Notonecta glauca) © Roger Key|
Athletes of the water bug world
Water boatmen have flat bodies and four oar-like rear legs which are covered in hairs, making them look like mini boats. Water boatmen also have a pair of scoping front legs, these coupled with their powerful rear limbs allows gracefully skimming under the water’s surface as well as diving deep into watery depths.
Aquatic plant smoothies
Most Water boatman are vegetarians. If you look closely you will notice their triangular shaped heads have a straw-like mouthpart (a proboscis); which is used to inject plants with digestive saliva. The saliva creates a plant smoothie which is sucked back up and eaten by the boatman. However, a few water boatmen are predators and will eat other insects. Water boatmen are also food for a number of aquatic animals and are eaten by water beetles and dragonflies. Please note: you must be careful if you catch a Greater water boatman when pond dipping as they can give a nasty nip, which is painful but not poisonous.
All aquatic bugs lack gills and therefore have to come to the water’s surface to breathe air. However, Water boatmen have a clever trick that allows them to remain under water for longer. They hang upside down below the water’s surface and collect air, they then carry this air as a bubble on their body or under their wings; this allows them to breathe when underwater.
Male Water boatmen attract females by rubbing their front legs against a ridge on their head (stridulate) to create a low chirping noise. Water boatman breed once a year and lay (oviposit) their eggs on submerged plants, sticks, or rocks; allowing a brood of young Water boatman to hatch out every year. International Bugs Species of Water boatmen occur all over the world.
In Mexico they are actually considered a delicacy, where they are harvested and eaten in large numbers!