I was out gazing at the herd one afternoon when I saw something that absolutely astounded me:
A water strider. An insect, Family Gerridae. And another, and then one more.
Also called pond skaters, skimmers, and water scooters, four of the water strider's six legs are constructed in such a way that the tiny beast is able to skate across calm waters supported only by the surface tension of the water. They use the other two to propel them at amazing speeds across the surface. They eat microscopic subsurface crud.
They are not rare. But neither are they spontaneously generated out of fake pond chemicals. They had to have gotten there somehow. There are no waters within, oh, a mile or so where one might have expected a water strider to have come from. In any event, of the thousands of water striders I've seen in waters all over the country, I have never seen one fly. They do not appear on casual examination to have wings. It seemed unlikely that they would have walked, or strode. And we have an eight-foot fence around the joint, although I would not have thought it would be a particular hindrance to a determined water strider.
Irrespective of their mode of arrival, I got to thinking: Why would these few water striders show up in my pond anyway?
When a few young male seals move on to colonize a new location, it's because the dominant males where they had been living have shamed them out of the herd, beating them up or honking at them or slapping them with their flippers or whatever bully seals do to keep them away from the hot young babe seals (standards of female seal beauty being notoriously low). They swim off to less threatening harbors where they laze about and stink and attract hoards of human admirers and EPA bureaucrats who tell you you have to move your yacht so these weenie geek seals can work on their tans.
Adolescent lions who can't cut it with the pride similarly start their own families if they can find some homely chick lion to leave with them and get away from those irritable man lions with the fluffy necks and sharp claws.
Similar behavior has been observed in post-adolescent human males, especially recent college and professional school graduates, who go on business trips and gather in the bar areas of steakhouses, some of which have pianos. Don't ask me how I know this.
Drawing on this extensive knowledge of the characteristics of isolated male populations, I realized exactly what kind of water striders these were:
I pictured them timidly approaching some comely lady striders, and promptly being aggressively skated off into the nether parts of the pond by studlier Gerridae. Moping at the pond's margin in a batch of duckweed, they decided to strike out on their own and ended up in my fake pond, where they can rule the roost and offer to buy some cute stridette a mosquito-egg cosmopolitan.
Then I decided to do a spot of research, and I discovered this on Wikipedia:
"Similar to other bug groups (such as Pyrrhocoridae), the development of wings can vary significantly within the same population. The population consists mostly of specimens with undeveloped or poorly developed wings. However, a small number of individuals have fully developed wings which they use for colonizing new habitats and forming new populations."
Whoa. I began to view our visitors in a new light. Perhaps they weren't the strikeout kings of nearby waters, but were instead -- pioneers, brave explorers, the vanguard of the species, the lone hope for the colonization of new ecosystems. They were the heroes of their kind. And totally hitting the stridettes they'd lured there far from home. "Forming new populations" indeed! Hey, longlegs, hows about you and I skate on over to that lily pad and form a new population? No, really, the Beemer's paid for. No wonder the koi left them alone. These bugs were major dudes.
Filled with a new admiration for these selfless pioneers and sexual adventurers, I returned to the pond with a new appreciation for their courage and (dare I say American?) spirit.
They were gone.
What -- my fake pond scum wasn't slimy enough for them? Our subsurface microorganisms weren't tasty enough? Was the surface tension of our fake pond not tense enough for their liking? Not enough silicone in the stridettes' thoraxes to hold their interest? No piano?