I’m excited to be the last stop of The Last of the Sandwalkers blog tour. I hope you enjoy learning about Jay Hosler’s Whirligig beetle.
Take it away Mr. Hosler!
Character Name: Whirligig beetle
Species: Gyrinus sp.
Length: 3-18 mm
Habitat: surface of streams, rivers and lakes
Superpower: four eyes, nasty spray and swimming underwater
There is a park down by the river that runs through the town where I live and in the summer, it’s easy to find clusters of whirligig beetles darting across the surface of the river near shore. They are supported by the surface tension of the water as they skitter, spin and whirl. It looks like they’re having an aquatic square dance, but in reality, much of their time is spent hunting for hapless insects which don’t have the whirligig’s gift for swimming and who have gotten trapped in the water.
Clusters of whirligigs can be quite crowded (check out the videos at the Arkive website) and this crowding raises an interesting behavioral question. Isn’t a conspicuous cluster of tiny, fast moving insects on the surface of the water an easy target for hungry fish and birds? This might be a problem for some critters, but whirligigs have several adaptations to deal with would-be predators. They have two sets of eyes for starters; one set above the water for detecting aerial threats and one set below the water to spot death by fishy. The also have sensory organs that alert them to ripples in the water made by approaching denizens of the deep looking for nummies. Whirligigs can take evasive maneuvers by flying or swimming away, but if worse some to worse and they get sucked into a fish’s mouth, they have one final defense. They can secret a chemical from their pygidial gland that is so nasty tasting that a fish will spit them out before the whirligig is harmed.
If the threat comes from the sky, whirligigs can dive underwater and stay there for extended periods of time thanks to an air bubble trapped under their elytra (the hardened out wings that all beetles have). This bubble is essentially a gill for the whirligig, allowing it to stay hidden underwater until the threat has flown away.
In Last of the Sandwalkers, our intrepid beetle adventurers meet whirligigs for the first time and quickly learn that a lot of great things can come in small packages.
Jay Hosler is a biology professor at Juniata College, and a cartoonist. He enjoys telling stories about science and the natural world, and his first graphic novel (Clan Apis) won a Xeric Award and was selected for YALSA’s 2002 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults. His latest book, Evolution: The Story of Life on Earth, was a 2011 Junior Library Guild selection, a nominee for YALSA’s 2012 Great Graphic Novels for Teens, and has been included in the Texas Library Association’s Maverick Graphic Novel Reading List. He lives in central Pennsylvania with his wife and his two little nerdlings.