I’ve always been drawn to tiny creatures. Maybe it’s because I’m not very tall myself.
For example, while sitting in my fish house this winter spearing northern pike, I’ve noticed that the water column in the lake I fish on is full of tiny copepods or daphnia, which are tiny crustaceans—zooplankton—that swim about like fleas. I’ve also enjoyed watching whirligig beetles and water boatman bugs surface in my spear-hole or swimming about below the ice.
Whirligig beetles mindlessly spin around in the water seemingly not knowing where to go, whereas water boatman bugs, with their oar-like front appendages, swim with seeming purpose and direction.
Another “small” surprise that occurred in the fish house one day was when a giant water bug surfaced. This insect, a true bug like and not a beetle, was at least 4 inches long and swam ominously on the surface of the water as if checking me out. These shockingly large predatory insects are capable of capturing and eating small minnows among a host of various insect-prey that it stalks and captures.
For obvious reasons, insects, and all the microhabitats they occupy, provides us with a wealth of wonderment. As such, it used to be that when I looked at a wetland I saw it as something like a gift-wrapped box. It’s attractive on the outside, complete with water and green vegetation for wrapping, but I really didn’t know much about the contents.
I contend that everyone should at least once in their lives slip into a pair of chest-waders or hip-boots and explore the brackish waters of a wetland to acquaint themselves, at the very least, with the cast members of such systems. I’m positive that everyone would come away with a different point of view after having experienced a walk in the water among the varied and diverse emergent and submergent aquatic plant life. For what’s contained within all that herbaceous life is a whole other world.
Believe me, a whole new world exists right in front of our faces for anyone wishing to probe a wetland. For instance, the diversity and amount of life that exists in just one drop of water would in and of itself astound. The contents of that droplet—of which we cannot see without magnification—contains a dizzying array of single-celled and multi-cellular organisms swimming about.
I have often peered into small windows of wetland waters for minutes on end, spellbound by what was going on below the surface. Did you know that the aforementioned water boatman carry around with them a single air bubble for use later on? Or that the tiny sacs dotting bladderwort plants are really miniature traps designed to capture invertebrates? Or how about those confused acting whirligig beetles that spin about like windup toys? Someone (not me) in fact determined that they can paddle their feet 60 times per second!
It completely captivates me to stand witness before a nighttime field of blinking lightning bugs on a warm June or July night.
Of course, an entomologist will tell you straight up that the insect of your amazement is not a bug, but, rather, a beetle and, furthermore, is certainly no fly as another name—firefly—suggests. These annual arthropodal spectacles, and others, are as enthralling as they are bewildering.
Indeed, from the all-encompassing view of a thousand yellow, green, and amber lights blinking off and on, to a single glowing beetle at the end of a blade of grass casting a cone of light below itself like some miniature organic yard light, such things leave us feeling small in a very small world as we get out and enjoy the great outdoors.
Blane Klemek is a Minnesota DNR wildlife manager. He can be reached at email@example.com.