When C. F. Alexander first penned the children’s hymn ‘All things bright and beautiful,’ I am convinced she was not thinking about pond skaters…
For they are neither wise, nor wonderful.
In fact, they’re a pretty mean bunch.
Granted, thanks to a myriad microscopic air-trapping hairs on their legs they can walk on water, which is a cool trick. And they’re pretty nifty too; achieving speeds of 100 body lengths per second – for me that would equate to over 400 miles per hour!
But there the admiration ends.
For the Gerridae family have a dark side, worthy of any Cosa Nostra clan.
All are carnivores and worse; they are cannibals too. Yes, they eat each other and worse still – I am convinced they would like to eat me!
Like surly teenagers, lounging with menace outside a convenience store, pond skaters always gather in places I need to go.
Let me explain…
At Denham Beach, on the far side of the river, the water runs deep and dark as the rocks that rise above it. Here, a leafy green hazel veil hangs low over the Tavy, and it is to this seclusion I retreat when walkers approach. With only eyes and nose above the surface, I float unheard and unseen.
But never alone.
For I am surrounded by an army of pond skaters who watch my every move. Completely encircled in a sinister standoff.
If I take a few strokes then suddenly spin around, their silent encroachment is instantly halted. I can almost imagine them casually glancing away as I turn, all whistling innocence.
But they are still watching, sizing me up, slowly advancing. Like Gulliver in Lilliput; I await the charge, the pounce, the enslavement. In the same way they detect the hapless insects that drop into the river, pond skaters sense my every movement through their front legs. The legs that also bear claws, like mantids, to puncture their prey before sucking its life dry.
So I am always glad to move from shade to safety and to leave these fearsome warriors in my wake.
Whenever I reach the shore after a wild swim, I always give thanks for my communion with Creation; for everything that I have seen, heard and felt.
But the Gerridae never feature on my thanksgiving list.
Which is a little ironic for, among their many names: water striders, skimmers, scooters, skippers, skaters and skeeters, one title ascends above all others…
The Jesus Bug.