Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Unexpected Pleasures Of Dragonflying: Encountering A Water Scorpion

Several days ago Betsy and I were visiting the Boyce Thompson Arboretum.  As we sat on the shore of Ayer Lake, a fairly large insect suddenly flew in and splashed down in the water in front of us.  I looked to see what was going on, and saw a water scorpion folding its wings and submerging itself into the waters of the lake.  Here are a few pictures I took of this interesting beast:

The water scorpion is in the order Hemiptera – thus it's one of the true "bugs" of the insect world.  It is called a water scorpion, but this guy is in the genus Ranatra – whose species are long and slender.  To me it looks more like a "water stick insect" or a "water praying mantis."  On the other hand, species in the genus Nepa are broad, and look a bit more like a scorpion.  The reason species in either genus are called "scorpions" is because of their long thin "tail," which is really a breathing tube and does not carry a stinger.  Thus, their common name is truly a misnomer.

Water scorpions generally eat invertebrates, but may occasionally take a small fish or tadpole.  I hope they're not eating the endangered pupfish in Ayer Lake.

They are supposedly docile when handled carefully – though I didn't put that to the test.  They are also noted for delivering a very painful bite.  Fortunately, I didn't put that to the test, either.

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