COUNCIL CHRONICLE – When one thinks of flies around water, the dragonfly might come to mind, but not many else. Deep water means a wet death for many winged insect species, including butterflies and grasshoppers. But the alkali fly or the Ephydra hians is an unlikely flying insect that not only doesn’t mind a little water, it deliberately plunges into it. For years, scientists have been baffled by its aquatic antics. However, they’ve now finally figured out its secret.
Why Lake Mono Seems An Odd “Paradise” For this Fly Species
At first glance, northern California’s Lake Mono looks like a great place to swim and live around. But the lake’s water is so alkaline, it’s highly toxic to most animal species. One notable exception is the brine shrimp. Another is a fly species that is often so actively moving around in shallow waters, that it looks like grains of dark sand.
Few migrating bird species visit Lake Mono to feed on shrimp and flies. But the alkali fly doesn’t seem to have much else of a predator problem, presumably a major reason why it chooses to call such a body of water home.
This fly species also doesn’t just buzz around on shore. These insects dive under the lake’s surface to lay eggs and feed on the algae that grow there. Also, the fly doesn’t just emerge from the water alive, it does so while remaining perfectly dry. Cal Tech scientists believe that they’ve finally discovered the fly’s trick. According to them, this fly species uses body hair and wax to create a “diving bell”.
“When the flies go down, their entire body is covered by one continuous air bubble,” says Cal Tech biology professor, Michael Dickinson.
This bubble is capable of doing more than just breaking water surfaces, as the flies have no trouble controlling it.
Scientists say that the “fly suit” that keeps such specimens dry and alive could be developed and refined for human use in the water. Such techniques could one day mean that human divers will have the means to do currently unlikely and impossible new things in water. Study findings can be accessed in a paper published in the journal PNAS.
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