Insects do not drown because they don’t breathe through their mouth like we humans. However, if an insect is underwater for too long it will eventually die.
Isn’t this drowning? Well, technically speaking, no, it’s more a process of suffocation.
Due to the amazing physiology of their bodies, many insects will happily live in and around water without drowning.
Their unique anatomical structures may also explain why you have had such a challenging time when trying to dispose of these pesky creatures with a bucket of water or a squirt from the garden hose.
- Insects that act like fish.
- Insects that walk on water.
- Plus, more acts of aquatic excellence from our six-legged friends.
HOW DO INSECTS BREATHING SYSTEMS KEEP THEM FROM DROWNING?
As mentioned earlier, insects don’t breathe through their mouth. So just pushing a little ants head underwater is not going to result in a drowning (if indeed it is even possible to conduct such a feat?)
All insects breathe through tiny holes on their bodies called spiracles. So while you’re holding some poor ants head underwater, he’s taking oxygen in through his legs.
CAN INSECTS SWIM?
I’m pretty sure that their freestyle technique is not that great. But insects such as ants can float and do manage to create enough movement that allows them to stay on top of and move along in the water.
Some of the more accomplished swimmers amongst the insect world include giant water bugs, backswimmers, water scorpions and whirligig beetles.
ARE THERE INSECTS WITH FISH LIKE PROPERTIES?
There are some insects, as their names suggest, that spend much of their life around water. The water boatman, diving beetles, and back swimmers are often referred to as aquatic insects and even have their own set of gills!
As you may expect, these gills function similarly to a fish’s gills, allowing them to extract oxygen from the water.
DEEP SEA DIVING INSECTS
Humans can attach some pretty cool scuba diving equipment to their bodies and spend a long time exploring underwater. Well, some insects come already equipped with their own diving gear!
Serious? Yep! The rat-tailed maggot (unfortunate name) has its own apparatus that is similar to a snorkel.
HOW DEEP CAN AN INSECT DIVE?
Researchers found they can dive as far as 30 meters. This impressive act can be accomplished by hitching an air bubble or two to their bodies, and off they go.
Apparently, one of these aptly named ‘diving beetles’ remained underwater for 36 hours! Not sure who recorded this information or indeed how, but it’s nonetheless an impressive achievement.
INSECTS AND SPACE SUITS
We just compared some insects to scuba-divers, we may as well compare them to spacemen, right? The spatial reference is in relation to something called ‘plastron’.
A plastron is a thin layer of air on the insect’s shell that supplies it with the oxygen needed for spending time underwater. Its shimmery appearance probably also resembles a spacesuit.
HOW DO INSECTS STAY ON THE SURFACE OF THE WATER?
The answer is mostly to do with good old-fashioned science. What is known as the water’s ‘Surface tension’ is what allows insects to partake in some Jesus-like activities of walking across the water.
Basically, the surface of the water is able to resist the force created by the insect’s feet, so they don’t sink.
HOW DOES BODY WEIGHT AFFECT THEIR ABILITY TO STAY ABOVE WATER?
Being such lightweight creatures is obviously advantageous in being able to glide across water surfaces with ease. This combined with some long spindly legs ensures they don’t break the surface of the water.
If you’ve ever watched a ‘water strider’ move across a still pond, it truly is a spectacle. You can see that its legs are highly adapted for such activities.
ANTS THAT CAN BUILD A RAFT
Known as some of the hardiest of all the ant species, Fire ants are also pretty smart creatures. They are able to make a raft like structure from their own bodies, just by linking parts of their bodies together. They have been known to survive flood-like conditions using this technique.
Maybe we can all learn something here?
HOW DO OTHER PARTS OF AN INSECT’S BODY KEEP IT FROM DROWNING?
Lots of insects can repel water. While it may not appear so, many insects are actually quite hairy.
They have tiny hairs on their bodies that can not only repel the water, but also trap air in between them. All of these helps to ensure they don’t become a saturated, drowning mess.
WHAT ROLE DOES HEMOGLOBIN PLAY IN AN INSECTS SWIMMING ABILITY?
Hemoglobin is a protein found in the body that helps to transport oxygen around the body. Some aquatic insects have been blessed with higher concentrations of this in their body than their relatives.
It makes sense then that this will enable them to stay underwater longer and can also assist with their overall swimming ability.
CAN YOU DROWN A COCKROACH?
Fortunately, you won’t need to conduct your own experiment. The ever-faithful MythBusters, in their YouTube video, ‘Drowning Cockroaches,’ discovered that their cockroaches were still alive after 30 minutes of being fully immersed in water.
I guess if you want to test for a longer period of time you will need to get your lab coat out.
CAN I DROWN ANTS TO GET RID OF AN INFESTATION?
Sure. It just might be harder than you think. Fire ants have a reputation for being able to float along in the water for a week or longer!
By adding some detergent to your water though, you can break the surface tension of the water (see a previous paragraph) and the ants will no longer be able to float on top. It will also affect the ability of the spiracles to function correctly.
WHAT IS ONE OF THE MOST COMMON AQUATIC INSECTS?
One of the most skilled insects, when it comes to not drowning, is the humble (albeit slightly annoying) mosquito.
Not only can it keep its head above water (so to speak), but it can also even hang upside down in the water whilst breathing in oxygen.
It does this through some straw-like tubes located near its backside. Maybe not so graceful, but certainly practical!
DO SOME INSECTS START THEIR LIFE IN WATER?
Yes, they do. Some of them hatch from eggs and start their life in an underwater world.
The previously mentioned mosquito begins its life in water and doesn’t really do too much of anything besides flopping around the lake or pond where it was born. Thankfully, it is equipped with some ‘flippers’ that help it to stay afloat.
So, you must hand it to insects. These tiny creatures of the animal kingdom are remarkable species.
You probably already knew something of their abilities in the air. But now you know about their skills around water environments too.
The next time you see an ant ‘drowning’ in your pool; it’s possible it is just enjoying some aquatic leisure time.
Alright, that’s it for this article, here are a few hand-selected articles that you might also find interesting reads:Why don’t insects die when they fall – The Curious Answer
Do Spiders Jump? Let’s Find Out!
Can Spider Fangs Grow Back? Let’s Find Out/
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