Bubble PowerBy Gerry Bishop
Some animals do things with bubbles that will blow you away!
Kids love blowing bubbles. But they aren’t the only ones. Take the bottlenose dolphins at right. They’re having fun blowing bubbles through the breathing holes on the tops of their heads.
The bottlenose in the small photo is performing a special talent: blowing bubble rings. Sometimes dolphins make really large rings and swim right through them!
Animals all over the world have discovered things to do with bubbles. But most of these things aren’t for fun. As you’ll see, they’re usually for survival.
Water spiders live under the surface of ponds and streams, where they can catch prey that other spiders can’t. But spiders need to breathe air, so how do they survive? By building air bubbles big enough to live in!
First, a water spider weaves a small, net-like web among some underwater plants. Then it swims to the surface, collects air in its hairs, and swims down to release it into its web. It does this over and over again until the web is filled up with one big, bell-shaped bubble.
The spider then moves inside, surrounded by all the air it needs. When it’s hungry, it crawls out and catches any prey that comes along.
The nymph (young) of an insect called the common froghopper is a helpless little thing. But it has a fine trick for surviving. It feeds by sucking sap from a plant stem. And as it does, foamy bubbles ooze from its back end. Soon the nymph’s body is covered with a bad-tasting blob that looks like spit. The “spit” keeps predators away and is the reason this insect is often called a spittlebug.
The bubbly covering also helps the nymph stay warm when the weather is cool, cool when it’s hot, and damp when it’s dry.
When a foam grasshopper feels threatened, it pumps out foamy yellow bubbles. They taste bitter and can sicken or even kill an attacking bird or lizard.
Most snails crawl on the ground, the sea floor, or another solid surface. But a violet snail builds a raft and sails upside down along the surface of the ocean!
To make its raft, the snail mixes slime from its body with air from the surface. This creates a bunch of gooey bubbles that stick together. The snail hangs on to the underside and floats away, looking for tiny jellyfish to snatch and eat.
BUBBLES FOR SNIFFING
A star-nosed mole (small photo) often hunts for worms, grubs, and other prey on land or underground. Finger-like tendrils around the mole’s nostrils feel for food while its nostrils sniff it out.
Another good place for finding prey is underwater. The mole’s tendrils work just fine there. But what about the sniffing? Won’t water get up the mole’s nose?
Nope. When it wants to take a good underwater sniff, the mole pushes out a bubble of air from each of its nostrils. The bubbles pick up any scents in the water. Then the mole sucks the air bubbles back into its nose for smelling. Ahh—smells like lunch!
It all happens on a tree branch hanging over a pond or stream. That’s where a female foam-nest treefrog begins laying eggs. Soon male frogs join her and fertilize the eggs. As the female lays her eggs, she also squirts out a liquid. By kicking her hind legs rapidly, she whips the liquid into a mass of little bubbles. The bubbles keep her eggs moist and hidden from predators.
Later, the eggs hatch into tadpoles, which then drip from the nest and into the water below. They’re now big enough to better escape fish and other predators living there!
Like all animals, fish need oxygen to live. Most get it from oxygen-rich water that passes over their gills as they swim. But Siamese fighting fish (also called bettas) live in water that has very little oxygen. When they can’t get enough from the water, they swim to the surface and suck in air.
Betta eggs also need plenty of oxygen. But they can’t swim to the surface for it. So a male betta blows lots of bubbles at the surface of his pond. Then, as his mate lays eggs, he grabs them in his mouth and spits them into the bubble mass. There they stay—right where they need to be to soak up oxygen from the air.
Humpback whales eat mostly small fish and tiny, shrimp-like creatures. But they don’t catch them one by one. Instead, they gobble up huge mouthfuls all at once. And to do that, they often use a trick called bubble netting.
When a humpback spots a school of small creatures, it dives below them. Then it swims up toward the school, moving in a spiral while releasing a stream of bubbles from its blowhole. The bubbles float quickly upward and, like a net, surround the prey. Frightened, the prey form a tight ball near the surface. Then the whale opens its big mouth wide and hauls in its catch. And as you can see in the photo above, sometimes a whale has some help catching—and eating—the prey.
“Bubble Power” originally appeared in the April 2016 issue of Ranger Rick magazine.
(Click on each image above for a closer view of the story.)