There are aquatic insects that can live on, or partially in, water. But diving under the surface for extended periods of time is a rare skill. One creature with this strange ability, the alkali flies found in Mono Lake, California, only recently had the source of its diving skills revealed thanks to a research team led by Floris Van Breugel.
The secret to their swimming success? Hairy, greasy bodies.
“I had seen [the flies before], but it's not really until you start looking for it that you see that they're in fact kind of all over the place, crawling underwater inside these little bubbles,” Floris Van Breugel, a biology research associate at the University of Washington and lead author of the 2017 study, told Motherboard’s podcast Science Solved It.
Tiny alkali flies are typically 6 millimeters long—about half the width of your pinkie. They live in huge swarms around Mono Lake, an ancient, highly alkaline terminal lake east of Yosemite National Park. For hundreds of years, these flies have been observed diving into the lake, creating a tight air bubble around their bodies, and swimming through the water, where they lay their eggs and feed on algae.
“You can kind of think of it as a dry suit, or a superhero costume that the flies wear as they crawl into the water,” Floris said.
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