While humans and squirrels alike are known for their skills on water skis, the record time for fastest ski was set by a beetle.
That’s right, as it turns out, waterlily beetles can "water ski," too — on their claws. A team of scientists led by Manu Prakash, a professor and researcher at Stanford University, published a paper today in the Journal of Experimental Biology that proves these insects are waterskiing badasses.
If humans could move that fast on water skis, we'd break 300 miles per hour
Prakash and his team used high-speed video footage to demonstrate that when it looks like the beetles skitter from the surface of a pond, they are actually gliding across it at incredible speeds. By tilting their tiny 6-millimeter bodies upward, lifting the middle two of their six legs off the water, and beating their wings they can cover half a meter per second. If humans could move that fast on water skis, we’d break 300 miles per hour. For reference, the current record for barefoot water skiing is around 135mph.
Although these beetles don’t have skis or a boat with a diesel engine to tow them around, they get a little help from some adaptive technology: claws. As the team discovered, the waterlily beetle has tiny curved claws on its legs, which it uses to stabilize itself while skiing.
Prakash and his team also found that the beetle’s body and legs are covered in water-repellant bristles that form an air bubble, which not only keeps it dry but also helps it use surface tension to support its body weight. This mode of transport may have developed as "an efficient foraging strategy," the authors write, helping the beetles zip across the surface of ponds to gobble up waterlily leaves before their neighbors can. The beetles are also able to switch from water skiing to flying at a moment’s notice.
So until humans grow claws and develop water-repellent legs, we’ll just have to rely on skis, inner tubes, or water jet packs to give us a leg up.