Water skaters

Posted: Tuesday 27 March 2012
by Richard Jones

In the bright warm sunshine, there is a lot of love-making going on in my pond.

water skater

In the bright warm sunshine, there is a lot of love-making going on in my pond. Just under the surface the newts are prowling through the pondweed, the crested males loitering casually near the sleek females. The tail-flicking courtship of smooth newts is moderately well known, but there is another amorous interaction going on at the surface that, although out in the open, is much trickier to make out. The water skaters are getting skittish.

Predatory insects, a bit like spiders, have to be careful when it comes to courtship - an eager male is apt to end up a meal for a hungry female unless he gauges her willingness exactly right. The skaters do not glide smoothly over the water surface, rather they dart in sudden dashes or skips. Occasionally two skaters meet, as one hops up close, then they jump apart again, as if to say: “Oops, sorry, didn’t see you there”.

Sometimes one skater will vault right over the top of the other. I’m guessing this is a male, pouncing, but missing. And just very occasionally, the two skaters stay together, the male clambering aboard the female. It’s very difficult to see what exactly is going on as they gyrate about, even though my pond is only about two square metres, and half of that is obscured by dense sedge and rush.

I think there is a fair bit of flailing about. The front legs, shorter than the long middle and back pairs, and not used to balance precariously on the meniscus, seem to be batting each other. These legs are used for sensing vibrations of the water surface and for manipulating prey, and I suspect the male is trying to consolidate his grip, while the female is trying to make sure she can escape if she changes her mind.

Then all is still, and the two slowly waltz in tandem or rest on the open water.

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roket31 03/05/2012 at 20:56

how do i get newts into my pond i have water skaters