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Hairy help

Snorkeling and scuba diving are fun activities that allow humans to swim underwater.

With snorkeling, swimmers use a short, bent tube to take breaths from above the water. They also wear a mask over their eyes so they can look around at fish and the bottom of the sea, lake or river.

In scuba diving, swimmers carry large tanks that contain air that goes through a tube into the swimmer’s mouth, so they can go even deeper snorkelers. Scuba divers sometimes wear special suits to keep them dry or warm.

Recently, scientists figured out that a fly that lives in California’s Mono Lake has its own way to scuba dive. Most flies, if they enter the water, get too wet to fly off. But the Ephydra hians, or diving fly, has many tiny, waxed hairs on its body that create a bubble around the fly’s body when it dives underwater. Scientists call this superhydrophobicity. So this is a super fly.

Strangely, the fly’s head is not inside the bubble so it can see to search for food on the bottom of the lake. Its legs, with strong claws to grip rocks while underwater, are also outside the bubble. When the fly floats to the surface like a cork, the bubble pops, the fly is still dry and it can buzz off. Once above water, the flies may become food for spiders or birds.

Why would a fly want to dive? In Mono Lake there are no fish or other predators underwater, so the fly can move around on the bottom of the lake eating without fear of being eaten. Like other insects, they also lay their eggs underwater.

All insects need to be able to shed some water, like rain or dew. This is what’s known as being hydrophobic. Like the Mono Lake fly, most insects have short bristly hairs covered in some kind of waxy substance.

— Brett French,

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