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Water Skiing Beetles

March 11, 2016

Specialized wings and claws propel a beetle across water at breakneck speeds.

Transcript

BOB HIRSHON (host):

High speed water beetles. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

The water lily beetle zooms across ponds by beating its wings, which blast it forward like a turbo- charged water skier. Stanford researcher Manu Prakash says they accelerate so quickly, they seem to disappear.

MANU PRAKASH (Stanford University):

So when you experience it you watch almost the trail they left behind, like a ghost line on the surface of water, as compared to seeing the actual insect.

HIRSHON:

In the Journal of Experimental Biology, Prakash and his colleagues report that rather than skimming smoothly along the surface, the beetle’s rapidly beating wings push them downward to create a bouncing motion. Specially adapted claws grip the underside of the water surface to keep them from becoming airborne. It’s basic research, but could eventually lead to new bio-inspired water transport. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.