The Scuba Diving Flies of California’s Mono Lake


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The fly’s secret to staying dry is an air bubble — a good, versatile, silvery sheath that the fly dons like a “a superhero costume,” mentioned Dr. Dickinson.

An alkali fly diving at Mono Lake.


Its physique — hairier and waxier than that of different flies and bugs — repels water, forming a bubble round itself because it dives. In a means, the fly carries the dry sky down with it.

The bubble doesn’t cowl its pink eyes, permitting the fly an undistorted view by means of the water. It walks alongside the tufa with out turning into too buoyant by clinging on with elongated claws.

These variations are notably spectacular in Mono Lake, the place the water can also be extraordinary.

The hypersaline circumstances make it inhospitable to fish, however very hospitable to brine shrimp, algae and micro organism. Underwater, the alkali flies feast on algae and lay eggs free from competitors and predators.

However the flies first needed to adapt to the lake’s chemistry. Containing borax and sodium carbonate, the water is healthier for laundry laundry than swimming or inhabiting. It’s slippery, greasy, thick and “notably moist,” mentioned Dr. Dickinson.

The sodium carbonate carries an electrical cost to the water’s floor. There it seeks an opposing cost — maybe your physique, in the event you occur to be swimming there. The water sticks to the areas between hairs higher than seawater or freshwater would.

That’s an issue for different bugs, the researchers discovered. Many have waxy or greasy hairs advantageous for repelling dew or rain, however insufficient for Mono Lake’s sticky water.


Mono Lake is understood for its calcium carbonate tufas. The lake’s water accommodates borax and sodium carbonate, which makes it slippery, greasy, thick and “notably moist,” mentioned a scientist who has studied the diving fly.

Credit score
Floris van Breugel/Caltech

With excessive pace cameras and some calculations, Dr. Dickinson and his colleagues discovered it was their further hair and physique wax that allowed alkali flies to repel the water and type their bubbles.

“Mono Lake flies are like hipsters in Brooklyn,” mentioned Dr. Dickinson. “They’re particularly bushy, and so they slather up with actually good pores and skin lotion.”

On the floor, the fly pushes its head underneath water, then its toes. Air trapped across the physique closes right into a bubble because the insect submerges, and inside milliseconds, it’s strolling underwater. It will possibly keep underneath about 15 minutes.

When the bubble rises and touches the floor, it fuses with the air above the lake, making a dimple that flattens out, slingshotting the fly upward and depositing it on the floor.

For those who head to Mono Lake, particularly in the summertime, you may see the flies your self. From afar, you’ll discover a writhing brown carpet of them on the shore.

For those who disturb them, the flies will escape in an undulating wave. Head off-trail towards the tufa towers rising from the water, and look underwater close to the shore. There, flies use calcium carbonate rubble as a ship ramp to enter the water.

Simply once you’re prepared to surrender, you’ll discover one, two, then tons of of flies doing their very own model of scuba diving. Get pleasure from.

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