Living In the Water

water boatman

Micronecta scholtzi
Photo: Jerome Sueur


Insects evolved on land with a tracheal system adapted to uptake of oxygen from the atmosphere.  Most groups of insects have at least some members or groups that have returned to the water through a variety of adaptations.  The water boatmen (family Corixidae) are the largest group of aquatic hemipterans.   Their strategy for living underwater does not include gills or gross modification of the tracheal system.  Water boatmen are able to trap large air bubbles with their wings and drag them underwater.  The insects breathe oxygen trapped in the bubble and exhale carbon dioxide.  Carbon dioxide diffuses out of the bubble and oxygen from the water diffuses into the bubble.  The insect has oxygen it originally carried in its bubble plus the oxygen collected by the bubble.  The wings of the water boatman trap the air and keep it from rising.  Surface tension of the water helps maintain the air bubble.  When out of the water, the respiratory system of the water boatmen is open to the atmosphere and the insect breathe as most other terrestrial insects do.

About jjneal

Jonathan Neal is an Associate Professor of Entomology at Purdue University and author of the textbook, Living With Insects (2010). This blog is a forum to communicate about the intersection of insects with people and policy. This is a personal blog. The opinions and materials posted here are those of the author and are in no way connected with those of my employer.
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One Response to Living In the Water

  1. Jon says:

    Wonder how much is going around there and we here are almost clueless about it. Interesting, I’m surely gonna research more into this. Thanks for this post.

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