A truly amazing creature: the Giant Pond Skater

John Spence holding a live Gigantometra gigas in Jianfengling National Forest Park

You’d think a Giant Pond Skater – whose scientific name is the wonderfully expressive Gigantometra gigas, would be a well-known wonder of the natural world.

But it seems almost unknown except to a (tiny) handful of specialists.

The photograph above is certainly the first on the Internet, showing John Spence of University of Alberta at the end of his 16 year quest in 2008 to see the creature in the wild.

So what do we know about this wonder of nature?

Its body is not so different in size to a normal pond skater – about four times longer. But its legs are truly amazing with a span of a about a foot! It needs these disproportionately huge legs to spread its extra weight on the water surface.

So far it has been found in only two places in the world – in remote tropical rain forest on Hainan Island off the south coast of China and in highland North Vietnam. It may occur in other areas: there are simply no reports.

Unlike most pond skaters it lives in the pools of fast-flowing mountain forest streams.

Once forests are logged it looks like Gigantometra dies out.

It’s easy to see. You walk up to the streams it lives on and it’s skating around in front of you.

About the Giant Pond Skater John Spence said: “I cannot overstate the thrill I felt, 16 years after setting a goal of seeing it live in nature, to actually see these magnificent creatures. The population was in good shape, with two to three adults and some juveniles on each pool that I visited.”

Lets hope that, in a few years time, the nearest we come to seeing this creature will NOT be this amusing simulacrum, created by engineers studying how skaters skate (actually, they row).

Robostrider

It’s a little ironic that the subject of this prestigious article in Nature – which is the Holy Grail for publishing your work as a scientist – on how pond skaters get around, should feature as its high spot the design of a mechanical Giant Pond Skater. I can’t help feeling that a paper which gave a deeper understanding of how to prevent the extinction of the real thing would have little chance of getting into Nature – who would probably dismiss it as natural history.

But I would be wrong to give the impression that Nature isn’t concerned with the science around protecting freshwater – as this recent widely publicised article on global threats to human water security and river biodiversity showed.

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One Response to “A truly amazing creature: the Giant Pond Skater”

  1. Neil Says:

    Excellent stuff.

    I think you would get a paper on it into nature although you would have to call it something like “Gigantometra and its relation to climate change, the KT boundry, human evolution, cloning and why wikipedia is better than encylopedias” hehe

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