Insect guide > Bugs > Water Boatmen

Water Boatmen


(Family Corixidae.)
The little bugs of this family and of the five families which immediately follow are all aquatic in their habits and form the series known to most writers as the Cryptocerata from the fact that they appear to have no antennae, since these organs are hidden below the head, sometimes in pockets. From their aquatic habits they are called Hydrocorisae or Hydrocores in some of the older works, though there are two other families, the Hebridae and Hydrobatidae which have obvious antennae and yet live on the surface of the water and in damp places.

The Corixidae are known as "water boatmen". They are mottled bugs of oval shape which are found commonly swimming on the surface of ponds and streams in all parts of the United States. They are flattened below and swim with the back upwards. They can descend below the surface and remain there for a long time since they carry down with them a film of air held by the fine hairs which cover the body.

They are true air breathers. When cold weather comes on, the water boatman, as do other aquatic bugs as well, swims down to the bottom and buries itself in the mud where it remains during the winter and specimens captured in spring are frequently coated with mud.

The eggs are laid under water and are attached in numbers to the stems of aquatic plants. The eggs of two Mexican species (Corixa mercenaria and C. femorata) are laid in enormous numbers in lakes near the city of Mexico, and are made into cakes with meal and are eaten by the Indians. They are said to have an agreeable acid flavor. I ate some once, but it was a stale museum specimen and had anything but a pleasant taste. These Mexican species are imported into England by the ton as food for game and song birds, poultry and fish. Kirkaldy has computed that one ton contains 25,000,000 of these insects.

According to Miall, Schmidt-Schwedt says that Corixa uses its fore legs to play a tune on its snout, the note being tolerably loud and sustained. They swim rapidly, their hind legs being oar-like, and they are predatory in their habits, feeding upon other aquatic animals. The beak is strong and sharp and they can pierce the tough skin of one's finger.

Active as these insects are in water they are slow and clumsy on land but when their pools dry up they fly inland in search of other water and are sometimes attracted to light at night. About forty species occur in the United States, all belonging to the genus Corixa.