Our New Pets: Water Fleas and Mosquito Larvae

We’ve been posting lots about birds and some about buds. Now it’s time for a blog post about bugs!

Bugs have long been favorites in our family, at least for me and Ethan. I was a teenage bug collector, and Ethan got interested in bugs as a preschooler. (Visit our Cicada Hunt website to see what our lives were like back then, and go here to find out what Ethan’s bug collections were like when he was young.) We’ve both kept our bug passion burning, even if when it’s partially eclipsed by other interests, like birds.

As noted in this earlier post, we like to keep outdoor water available year ’round for birds and kids to play in. As the weather warms, that water comes to life with bugs and worms that feed on newly grown algae and the winter’s accumulation of dead leaves.

The first water bugs we saw this year were Water Fleas, a crustacean more closely related to lobsters than to insects. They appeared in early April. The biggest Water Flea in this photo is a bit larger than the head of a pin:

Wtaer Flease swim by using their large antennae as oars. The larger one has a bunch of tiny eggs inside its body.
Water Fleas swim using their large antennae as oars. You can see their insides through their transparent skin. The larger Water Flea has a bunch of tiny eggs inside its body. (The white squiggly lines are scratches in the plastic jar that holds the buggy water.)

To learn more about Water Fleas, go here or here. The see a YouTube video of a live Water Flea, go here.

Just this morning we discovered our first Mosquito larvae of the year. Larvae are baby Mosquitoes, which live in water and cannot fly. The biggest larva in this photo is as long as a of grain of rice:

The blue arrows point to the heads of Mosquito larvae.
The blue arrows point to the heads of Mosquito larvae. They stick their tails through the water's surface to get air to breathe.

To learn more about how Mosquitoes grow up, go here or here.

We enjoy our water bugs outdoors as wild visitors to our yard and indoors as-easy-to-care-for pets. We always keep a jar of buggy water on the back window sill, where the afternoon sun fuels the bugs’ algal food:

Here's our jar of pet Mosquito larvae. We use a piece of paper towel to keep grown-up Mosquitoes from escaping through the hole-punctured lid.

It’s better than a lava lamp as a source of meditative concentration, joy, and inspiration (at least for me and Ethan). We put other jars of buggy water on our front porch rail for the neighborhood children to enjoy.

Now that Mosquitoes are back, we’ll have to manage our outdoor water carefully. We empty and refill most pools at least once a week. However, we always keep one pool just for the bugs. When dragonfly nymphs and other underwater predators prowl our bug pool, no Mosquito larvae can survive for long. When there aren’t enough insect predators, we’ll add a few bug-eating fish. Either way, we make sure no Mosquito larvae grow into blood-sucking adults in our back yard.

We have more bug posts coming up, including beetles on the beach and bugs in the soil.


Update added May 13, 2009: To find out what our water pets were like a week later, please go here.


In mid June we added a new pond water pet: A Water Scorpion. We fed it our remaining pet Mosquito larvae.  Go here to read about it.