Whirligig Beetles


Summary 2

The whirligig beetles are a family (Gyrinidae) of water beetles that usually swim on the surface of the water if undisturbed, though they swim actively underwater when threatened. They get their common name from their habit of swimming rapidly in circles when alarmed, and are also notable for their divided eyes which are believed to enable them to see both above and below water. The family includes some 700 extant species worldwide, in 15 genera, plus a few fossil species. Most species are very similar in general appearance, though they vary in size from perhaps 3 mm to 18 mm in length. They tend to be flattened and rounded in cross section, in plan view as seen from above, and in longitudinal section. In fact their shape is a good first approximation to an ellipsoid, with legs and other appendages fitting closely into a streamlined surface.

SoCal Status 3

Known Species per The California Beetle Database .
Dineutes solitarius
Gyretes sinuatus
Gyrinus consobrinus
Gyrinus parcus
Gyrinus plicifer

Description and affinities 4

The Gyrinidae generally have been regarded as a family in the Adephaga, but there is a great deal of work underway to clarify the relationships both within the Adephaga and within the Coleoptera in general. Within the Adephaga there is confusion as well, with various rival proposals in contention; for example some workers regard the Gyrinidae as being closely related to such families as the Dytiscidae and various other predacious water beetle families, whereas other analyses suggest rather that the Gyrinidae are a sister group to the rest of the Adephaga. Some of the Adephagan families seem to be polyphyletic themselves, so a definitive cladistic structure will have to await more advanced nucleic acid analyses.

Whirligig beetles are most conspicuous by reason of their bewildering swimming, but their coloration is not showy and commonly they can be quite hard to see if they are not moving or are under water. However, seen to best effect most species are handsomely coloured with a sombre lustre of steely grey or bronze. Their integument is finely sculpted with little pits; it is hard and elastic and produces a water repellent waxy outer layer, constantly supplemented. Among other functions, the lubricant layer and smooth outline make the beetles remarkably difficult to hold onto if caught; they slip from between one's fingers like a fresh orange pip.

The antennae are unusual among beetles, being short and plump, and placed about at water level. The compound eyes are remarkable for each being divided into a higher part that is above water level when a beetle is floating passively, and a lower part that is below water level. In this respect they recall the Four-eyed fish. The middle, and more especially the hind, legs are natatory, meaning adapted for swimming; they are greatly flattened and fringed with bristles that fold to aid swimming action. In contrast the front legs are long and adapted for grasping food or prey. In males the front tarsi have suckers, which they need for holding onto slippery females during mating.

Sources and Credits

  1. (c) Udo Schmidt, some rights reserved (CC BY-SA), http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Gyrinus_substriatus_Stephens,_1828.jpg
  2. (c) Wikipedia, some rights reserved (CC BY-SA), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gyrinidae
  3. (c) BJ Stacey, some rights reserved (CC BY-SA)
  4. (c) Wikipedia, some rights reserved (CC BY-SA), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whirligig_beetle

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