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Backswimmers Active Under Ice

11-18-13  backswimmers under ice 061Backswimmers are insects classified as “true bugs” and belong to the order Hemiptera. Most Hemipterans are land dwelling, such as stink bugs and assassin bugs, but there are a few, such as water striders, water boatmen and backswimmers, that are aquatic. In the fall, when most insect hatches have ceased, backswimmers come into their own. While some hibernate at the bottom of ponds in winter, others remain active, sculling through the water with their oar-like hind legs that are covered with fine hairs, preying on all forms of life up to the size of a small fish. Thanks to bubbles of oxygen that they obtain from pockets of air just under the ice and carry around with them like mini aqua lungs, backswimmers can continue to stay below the surface of the water for several minutes. Like most aquatic insects, backswimmers supercool their bodies (produce antifreeze compounds called cryprotectants that allow their body fluid to go down to 26 to 19 degrees F. without freezing). Right now, when there’s a thin layer of ice on most ponds and no snow covering it, you might want to peer through the ice at the edge of the pond to see if you can locate any of these cold-hardy creatures. Just be sure you don’t fall in, as I did two seconds after this photograph was taken. My undying gratitude for those of you who have donated to Naturally Curious, as your support enabled me to replace both camera and lens!

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9 responses

  1. Kate

    What kind of camera and lens do you use for a shot like this?

    November 26, 2013 at 12:52 pm

    • I had/have a Canon 5D Mark 111 and a 100mm macro lens which I use for almost all of my close-up shots. Love them both.

      November 26, 2013 at 1:07 pm

  2. dellwvt

    I’m glad the water was shallow!
    Yet another remarkable batch of adaptations! Thanks, once again, for your blessed obsession with observing and sharing all these wonderful glimpses into the world around us. Your blog is one of the many things I’m grateful for this Thanksgiving!

    November 26, 2013 at 1:42 pm

  3. Oh my goodness! The adventures of a photographer…

    November 26, 2013 at 2:13 pm

  4. C K Sabin

    Is there a way to donate other than online? Is there a PO Box or some way to send a check?

    November 26, 2013 at 2:53 pm

    • If you email me at, I would be happy to send you my mailing address. I was advised that it wasn’t a good idea to put it on the web. Sorry for the inconvenience!

      November 26, 2013 at 3:25 pm

  5. Marilyn

    The camera and lens:are they the ones you use, or did they get wet and have to be replaced? I hope that this case it was only you that got wet!

    November 26, 2013 at 11:33 pm

    • Marilyn

      I wishI could delete my comment, now that I see the answer was posted previously.
      I’ll have to check my pond before it snows again – or rains and the ice melts… I don’t remember seeing backswimmers there, but I was paying more attention to crayfish and frogs.

      November 26, 2013 at 11:39 pm

      • Marilyn

        There ARE backswimmers in my pond!

        November 28, 2013 at 5:13 pm

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