The Nekton and Plankton Communities

The nekton are swimmers able to navigate at will (e.g., Coleopera, Hemiptera, some Ephemeroptera), whereas plankton are floating organisms whose horizontal movements are largely dependent on water currents. The phantom midge Chaoborus sp. (Chaoboridae) (Fig. 3A) is normally regarded as the only planktonic insect and is abundant in many eutrophic (nutrient-rich) ponds and lakes. The tracheal system in these larvae is reduced to kidney-shaped air sacs that function solely as hydrostatic organs, and the larvae slowly descend or rise by adjusting the volume of the air sacs. Chaoborus remains in benthic regions during the day but moves vertically into the water column at night. These journeys are dependent on light and oxygen concentrations of the water. The larvae avoid predation by being almost transparent, and they have prehensile antennae that are used as accessory mouthparts to impale zooplankton (Fig. 3A). The only other group of insects that may be considered to be planktonic are the early chironmid instars, which have been reported in the open water column.

Among the Heteroptera, nektonic species are in the Notonectidae (back swimmers), Corixidae (water boatman), and Belostomatidae (giant water bugs), all of which are strong swimmers. Many of these rise to the water surface unless continously swimming or clinging to underwater plants. Notonectids have backs formed like the bottom of a boat and navigate upside down. They hang head downward from the surface or dive swiftly, using their long hind legs as oars. On the underside of the body, they carry a silvery film of air, which can be renewed at regular intervals, for breathing while submerged. Two genera of backswimmers (Anisops and Buenoa) use hemoglobin for buoyancy control, and this adaptation has enabled these insects to exploit the limnetic zone of fishless lentic waters, where they prey on small arthropods. They have been considered for use as biological control agents for mosquito larvae in some areas of North America. In contrast to notonectids, corixids always swim with the back up, using their elongate, flattened oarlike legs. Although some water boatmen are predators, they are the only group of semiaquatic Heteroptera that have members that are collectors, feeding on detritus and associated small plant material. The Belostomatidae are strong swimmers, but probably spend most of their time clinging to vegetation while awaiting prey, rather than actively pursuing their food in the open water. They are masters of their environment and capture and feed on a variety of insects, tadpoles, fish, and even small birds. The eggs of many belostomatids are glued to the backs of the males by the females and carried in this position until nymphs emerge, a remarkable adaptation for protection of the eggs.

Although most aquatic beetles (Coleoptera) are associated with the substrate, members of the Dytiscidae (predaceous diving beetles) and the Hydrophilidae (water scavenger beetles) are often found swimming in the water column and together constitute the majority of all species of water beetles. The dytiscids are mainly predators in both the adult and larval stage (Fig. 3C, D), while adult hydrophilids are omnivorous, consuming both living and dead materials. The larvae of hydrophilids are predaceous. (Fig. 4A). To respire, hydrophilid adults, having their largest spiracles on the thorax, break the surface film with their antennae; dytiscids, having their largest spiracles on the abdomen, come up tail-end first, as do the larvae of both families. Overall, there are actually few truly nektonic insects, and most of them pass through the limnetic zone when surfacing for emergence. This may be, partly, because with no resting supports in the limnetic zone, maintaining position requires continuous swimming or neutral buoyancy. The vast majority of lentic insects occur in shallow water with emergent plants and are considered to be part of the benthos.

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