Halobates is the only insect genus with representatives living their entire lives in the open ocean. It is a member of the true bug order Heteroptera and belongs to the family Gerridae which includes pond skaters commonly found in freshwater ponds, lakes, streams and rivers. Although the genus was first discovered in 1822, not much was known about its biology or special adaptations which enabled it to live in the open ocean where no other insects were able to survive. This was largely because few entomologists have any reasons to venture out to sea. Being attached to the Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO) with sea-going vessels has given me opportunities to study them at sea. What we now know about their distributions, biology, special adaptations and phylogeny can be found in reviews listed under 'Publication'.
This project was initiated when interests on heavy metal pollution Worldwide were generated following discoveries on lead poisoning from additives in petrol in the 1970s. Air pollutants eventually rain down to earth. Since the ocean covers more than 70% of the earth’s surface, many chemical oceanographers were interested in finding out the presence and concentrations of heavy metals in the sea. It is relatively straightforward to measure heavy metal concentrations in seawater but measuring those that occur at the surface film which is the entry point of pollutants to the ocean is quite another matter. Methods and precautions needed in order to prevent contamination of surface samples were difficult to surmount. Halobates are completely wingless. They do not fly, nor dive throughout their lives. They are completely restricted to the sea-air interface. They were easy to collect and samples could be cleaned prior to measurements to give dependable results. They can therefore be useful indicators of heavy metal concentrations on the ocean film.
View this collection on the contributor's website.