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Discover Nature: Water Striders

Black water strider rests on surface of clear water; suspended above amber, white gravel substrate in background.
Watch for water striders on warm spring days. Often mistaken for spiders, water striders are insects, and play a beneficial role in aquatic ecosystems.

On warm, late-winter and early-spring days look along streams for an insect skimming across the water's surface. This week on Discover Nature we watch for the water strider.

Water-repellant hairs on the hind and middle legs allow these nimble insects to skate on water. Velvety hairs on their bodies keep them dry despite spending all their time on water.  

The water strider has an elongated body, less than an inch long – dark-brown or blackish, with a silvery-white stripe along each side.  Six long, thin legs, spread far apart, create a “dimple” on the water’s surface.  

Though sometimes called “water spiders,” striders are actually insects.  They eat other bugs that fall onto the water’s surface – detecting the ripples caused by their prey’s struggles – often feeding in groups.  

Common in nearly any aquatic habitat in Missouri, birds feed on water striders, but fish seem to find them unsavory, and rarely eat them.  

Learn more about water striders and other Missouri-native aquatic insects with the Missouri Department of Conservation’s online field guide

Discover Nature is sponsored by the Missouri Department of Conservation. 

Kyle Felling was born in the rugged northwest Missouri hamlet of St. Joseph (where the Pony Express began and Jesse James ended). Inspired from a young age by the spirit of the early settlers who used St. Joseph as an embarkation point in their journey westward, Kyle developed the heart of an explorer and yearned to leave for adventures of his own. Perhaps as a result of attending John Glenn elementary school, young Kyle dreamed of becoming an astronaut, but was disheartened when someone told him that astronauts had to be good at math. He also considered being a tow truck driver, and like the heroes of his favorite childhood television shows (The A-Team and The Incredible Hulk) he saw himself traveling the country, helping people in trouble and getting into wacky adventures. He still harbors that dream.
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