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Whirligigs (Gyrinus spp.)

Detailing the physical features, habits, territorial reach and other identifying qualities of the Whirligigs

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Crazy fast and furious spirals best describe the swimming patterns of Whirligigs, small aquatic beetles that are fun to watch.

Updated: 07/15/2021; Authored By Staff Writer; Content ©www.InsectIdentification.org
Whirligigs have four eyes: two above and two below water. This allows them to see through both media simultaneously. Their middle and hind legs are shaped more like a fin or paddle making them agile in the water. Though small as individuals, a large cluster of Whirligigs seen spinning about can contain outrageous numbers of them. They feed on detritus and small aquatic insects in water and can dive under whenever they like. They cannot breathe underwater so they capture and carry air bubbles when at the surface and take them below to respire.

Whirligigs have a milky chemical defense that they secrete when under threat. Its odor is perceptible to humans and is described unpleasant. The members of this genus prefer calmer waters like lakes and ponds, but are fine in rivers and streams. Whirligigs are mesmerizing to watch.

General Characteristics
Capability, Shape, Texture/Pattern, Benefits, Dangers
Fast insect icon
Harmless insect icon
Smelly insect icon


Taxonomic Hierarchy
Species Breakdown
Kingdom: Animalia
  Phylum: Arthropoda
    Class: Insecta
      Order: Coleoptera
        Family: Gyrinidae
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          Genus: Gyrinus
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            Species: spp.
Identifying Information
Size, Colors, Features
Scientific Name: Gyrinus spp.
Category: Beetle
Size (Adult; Length): 3mm to 8mm (0.11" to 0.31")
Colorwheel Graphic Colors: black
Descriptors: fast, spirals, circles, bounce, bumper, gyrating, swimming, cluster, harmless, smelly, stinky, odor

Whirligigs Video(s)

Whirligigs, some swimming and some floating.

Relative Size Comparison
Typical Size Between 3mm (0.1in) and 8mm (0.3in)
Lo: 3mm
Md: 5.5mm
Hi: 8mm
Territorial Map*
U.S., Canada, and Mexico
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Territory map graphic of the country of Mexico
Contiguous United States shape map layer graphic
Prince Edward Is.  
* MAP NOTES: The territorial heat map above showcases (in red) the states and territories of North America where the Whirligigs may be found (but is not limited to). This sort of data is useful when attempting to see concentrations of particular species across the continent as well as revealing possible migratory patterns over a species' given lifespan. Some insects are naturally confined by environment, weather, mating habits, food resources and the like while others see widespread expansion across most, or all, of North America. States/Territories shown above are a general indicator of areas inhabited by the Whirligigs. Insects generally go where they please, typically driven by diet, environmental changes, and / or mating habits.


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