Marine Insecta Water Striders and Midges

Insects evolved from a marine ancestor in the distant past (fossil insects are known from the Devonian). However, only a limited number of taxa have reinvaded the marine environment, and all are adapted to living on the ocean surface rather than at depth and are air-breathers; none can survive lengthy immersion in seawater. This limitation is reflected in many of the synapomorphies of the insects, such as the presence of tracheae and malpighian tubules, which are direct adaptations for terrestriality and do not function properly underwater. A number of insect orders (for example, Hemiptera, Diptera, and Coleoptera) contain taxa that have some degree of halophilic tendencies, but, like the arachnids, these are almost all confined to salt marsh and intertidal habitats. The only insects that live out their lives wholly on the ocean are the five species of Halobates (water-striders) and a small number of midges, whose larvae are found free-living at or near the surface. It appears that the insect body plan, so successful on land and in freshwater, is not only unable to cope with a highly saline environment but, in addition, has not been able to adapt secondarily and reinvade the oceans. Even insect parasites of marine birds and seals, such as lice, are not truly marine, inasmuch as they cannot stand lengthy exposure to sea water; there are no insects parasitic on whales.

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