July 7, 2015

Skating over the stormy seas

THOSE OF YOU who pay proper attention to this blog will remember that spiders have learned to sail the oceans just as yachts do. Well, now I have discovered what they live on—tiny bugs called sea skaters, or ocean striders.

These little insects are relatives of the pond skaters or water striders that are able to walk on the surface of the water without breaking through the “skin.” But whereas the pond skaters are basically landlubbers who never stray far from terra firma, your average sea skater is, by comparison, a hairy-chested sailorman who lives in the open ocean, filling his ample belly with plankton.

I have seen these little fellows on a dead-calm day in midocean, with their feet spread out in a roundel of pools as they press down on the surface tension, and I have wondered how on earth they manage to survive out there when the wind starts to blow and the water becomes rough. Very few insects look more fragile than sea skaters, but Nature has obviously equipped them with the means to survive even the largest plunging breaker.

In fact, I read recently that Miriam Goldstein, of the University of California in San Diego, has been studying sea skaters, and she says that they even have a little “life jacket” — a bunch of hairs on their body that trap a bubble of air, so that if they get sunk by a wave, they pop right back up. “They’re amazing,” she says.

I must agree with her. I can’t imagine what kind of social life they live out there, skating away over the world’s oceans, probably hoping to meet up with another interesting sea skater of the opposite sex someplace, sometime. But I expect their little lives are enlivened by the fact that, at any moment, they’re likely to run into one of their mortal enemies, a spider disguised as a little yacht under a silk cloud of spinnaker, and ever ready to gobble them up.

Today’s Thought
Nature is a rag merchant who works up every shred and ort and end into new creations; like a good chemist whom I found, the other day, in his laboratory, converting his old shirts into pure white sugar. — Emerson, Conduct of Life: Considerations by the Way


“Filthy pictures, sir?”
“Good grief, no.”
“Filthy pictures, sir?”
“No, no, go away!”
“Filthy pictures, sir?”
“Leave me alone, you’re far too young. Shoo!”
“Filthy pictures, sir?”
“Oh, for Pete’s sake . . . okay, okay . . . how many d’you want?”

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)


No comments: