Changing Planet

Life & Glaciers: The Torrent Midge Lifecycle

(Patagonia’s Untold Stories)

 

Its skin is splitting open down its back. Three pairs of lateral attachment points keep its streamlined body glued to the submerged rock. It will use the glacial raging torrent to its advantage. With the last air in its body, it inflates its thorax to free itself from its pupal skin. It has violated an unbreakable rule of hydrodynamics. There will be consequences. There is no turning back.

The unforgiving torrent violently rips its fragile soft body away, revealing its nature. It is a female.

The trapped air in her thorax will save her life. Through buoyancy, she reaches the surface and uses her young wings to fly away from the treacherous current.

Torrent Midge adults (Blephariceridae: Edwardsina) from Patagonia Chile. (R. Isaí Madriz)

Resting on an overhanging leaf of the marginal vegetation she completes her transformation by hardening her skin.

Below, others are not so fortunate. Feasting fish engulf the unlucky ones that delayed to surface, while small birds swoop down to snatch those in desperate search for cover.

Mature larvae are under attack, they congregate in the swiftest channels, using the force of the current as their only defense. Their six ventral hydraulic suckers that keep them firmly anchored to the submerged rocks are no match for the jaws of hungry fish.

Adulthood is a developmental stage many will not experience.

Our female braves the predators and flies across the river only to be intercepted by a male. The pair search for cover in the riparian vegetation. After copulation, his life cycle is complete. She on the other hand must stay alive and produce eggs.

Chilean Torrent Midge pupa (Blephariceridae) frontal view. Stacked image of preserved specimen. (R. Isaí Madriz)

A few days pass by and she braves the torrent yet again, but this time to lay her eggs. She selects a large rock in the main river channel and begins to anchor her eggs at the waterline. She must hurry. The unpredictable current thrashes her against the rock face as she struggles to hold on, but persists.

At last, all of her eggs are securely attached to the rock, but she remains in place. Prolonged exposure to the freezing water has dangerously cooled her body. She is unable to take off. The turbulent flow is unforgiving. Unable to hold on any further, she releases her grip and her body is claimed by the very river that witnessed her entire life.

With this action, she culminates a glacial dependent natural cycle that has been developing for millennia, but with the current global environmental threats, for how long will this process be allowed to continue?

R. Isaí Madriz collecting Torrent Midges in Patagonia (Aysén, Chile). (Kristina K. Lindsay Madriz)

 

R. Isaí Madriz PhD. Photo Credit: Randall Scott/National Geographic

Dr. R. Isaí Madriz is an entomologist and zoologist with expertise in freshwater aquatic insects of Patagonia. As a Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellow, he is telling the story of deglaciation of the Northern Patagonia Ice Field, focusing on its vanishing aquatic insect diversity through images and stories of exploration, science and human connections. He combines hiking, bikepacking and packrafting to transect unexplored areas and secluded fjords in search of some of the rarest insects on the planet. This low carbon footprint approach utilizes renewable energy sources to capture never before seen footage of remote glacial outlets and hidden valleys of wild Patagonia. Madriz is documenting the largely unknown endemic aquatic insect fauna of this vital region before Chile’s Aysén region’s biodiversity is transformed forever.

Dr. R. Isaí Madriz is an entomologist and zoologist with expertise in freshwater aquatic insects of Patagonia. As a Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellow, he is telling the story of deglaciation of the Northern Patagonia Ice Field, focusing on its vanishing aquatic insect diversity through images and stories of exploration, science and human connections. He combines hiking, bikepacking and packrafting to transect unexplored areas and secluded fjords in search of some of the rarest insects on the planet. This low-carbon footprint approach utilizes renewable energy sources to capture never-before-seen footage of remote glacial outlets and hidden valleys of wild Patagonia. Madriz is documenting the largely unknown endemic aquatic insect fauna of this vital region before Chile’s Aysén region’s biodiversity is transformed forever.
  • Vero

    AMAZING AMAZING AMAZING!!!!

  • Lupita

    Congratulations , Amazing

  • Iván Mardueño Díaz

    Me parece fantástico qué promuevan este tipo de investigaciones para que nos den a conocer otro estilo de vida existente pues eso nos hace comprender y valorar más el mundo en que vivimos.

    • Así es Ivan. Habra mas historias de estas y espero traducirlas al español

  • Fernanda

    Very interesting.

  • Adrian

    Very interesting, congratulations.

  • Anand Varma

    Nice lead photo Isaí!

    • Thank you Anand! I learned a few tricks from the best mentor I’ve had

  • David

    Congratulations beautiful photos

  • Targe Lindsay

    Enlightening introduction, Isai! Great picture of you blending in with the rock in the torrent, also. Gonna be fun reading about your thoughts, info and adventures! Thanks for posting! D

    • Thank you for the kind words. The photo credit goes to Kristina Lindsay as she caught the perfect moment. There will be more interesting stories to come.

  • Mariela

    Congratulations!!! Love reading about your stories, feels like you are actually there. Amazing!!!

    Looking forward to read them en español.

  • joanne lindssay

    So interesting– Anxious to read more.

  • Cindy

    Keep up with this fascinating and important research. Kudos

  • Targe Lindsay

    Nice start! Looking forward to many more stories to come.

  • Manuel Cordero

    WOW! Great Pictures. This is so interesting, very anxious to know what’s next.

  • Richard

    Looks sweet! Have you found any MOOOOTHS?

  • Sonia

    Wow I can’t wait for the weird insects that you will find in this adventure but I’m awaiting for the stories to came, great job Isaí and Kristina also thanks for the fenomenal pictures.

  • Wileta Burch

    Wonderful, interesting story, Isai I will look forward to further postings. A great photo, too.

  • Barbara

    That first photo is beyond cool – very “other-worldly.” I love the descriptive story that takes me into the amazing world of Chilean Patagonia. Can’t wait for more!

  • Jessica Tolerba

    Great first story! Very descriptive and makes even non-interested folks of insects interested! Fabulous job!

  • Gunnar Kvifte

    This is beyond cool – great artwork and inspiring storytelling!

    • Thank you Gunnar, It is good to have the endorsement of another Diptera expert! Perhaps a psychodid story may come up in the near future.

  • Alex

    Congratulations on the first post! Hope I can make it down there again! Cant wait to see the rest.

  • Shawna Llama

    Impressive storytelling and ensnaring photographs. I can taste the icy river and hear the struggles of the midge!

    Congratulations, Dr. Madriz 🙂

  • Rosario Jazo

    Felicidades !! Me siento muy orgullosa de ser tu tía, me fascina tu investigación tq.

  • Ursula

    Great photo! That opening reads like a Michael Crichton novel!!

  • Kaia

    I had no idea surviving as a Chilean Torrent Midge was so treacherous.

  • Nancy Jo

    Beautiful! Keep them coming!

  • Cuquis Ibarra

    Dr. Isai Felicidades por su trabajó. Su madre esta orgullosa de usted

  • Amiga de lupita

    Comparto mucho la felicidad de tu Mami te te admiro por todo lo que has logrado y es un orgullo que seas de nuestra raza.

  • ALEJANDRINA CALDERÓN PICAZO

    El trabajo de este chico es sensacional!!!! Es Muy responsable e inteligente!! Cualquier investigación y para el es un reto cada día tener más información importante que darnos. Es un gran placer conocerte Dr. ISAI

  • Pilar Sayeed amiga de Lupita

    This is a truly remarkable description of that particular insects life cycle. Great story telling, keep up the awesome work!

  • Juan Perez

    Excelente trabajo de investigación que demuestra lo poco que sabemos aún del mundo en que vivimos y que estamos estamos poco a poco destruyendo. Felicidades al Dr. Madriz por esta información tan profesional.

  • Mariana

    Great words and pictures!! I can’t wait to continue reading and seeing the magical journey!

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