Waterlily beetles are the extreme water-sport champions of the insect world. When foraging for food, the bugs can skim across a pond, lake, or stream at about 1 mph. That would be equivalent to a human reaching a blistering 300 mph on water skis. Thanks to high-speed video captured by scientists at Stanford University, we can now watch the maneuvers required to pull off such an impressive feat, Science News reports.
In a study recently published in the Journal of Experimental Biology, researchers analyzed the mechanics behind the water-skimming flight of the waterlily beetle (Galerucella nymphaeae). The scientists discovered that when preparing to jet across the water's surface, the beetles lift each leg and set them back down. Then, when they're ready for takeoff, they plant their front legs, raise their middle pair of legs above their head, and stand upright like a miniature surfer hanging-ten. As they flap their wings in a rapid figure-eight motion, they propel their bodies forward while using their curved back claws like skis to balance themselves. Significant surface tension keeps the lightweight creatures from sinking. Like its fellow water-walking insect the water strider, the waterlily beetle also uses microscopic hairs on its legs to trap air bubbles and make it more buoyant.
Though this aquatic stunt requires more energy than the beetles would expend by simply flying, researchers believe it has its benefits. Moving at such high speeds might make them a harder catch for predators lurking beneath the surface.
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[h/t Science News]