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Superregnum: Eukaryota
Cladus: Unikonta
Cladus: Opisthokonta
Cladus: Holozoa
Regnum: Animalia
Subregnum: Eumetazoa
Cladus: Bilateria
Cladus: Nephrozoa
Cladus: Protostomia
Cladus: Ecdysozoa
Cladus: Panarthropoda
Phylum: Arthropoda
Subphylum: Hexapoda
Classis: Insecta
Cladus: Dicondylia
Subclassis: Pterygota
Cladus: Metapterygota
Infraclassis: Neoptera
Cladus: Eumetabola
Cladus: Endopterygota
Superordo: Coleopterida
Ordo: Coleoptera
Subordo: Adephaga

Subfamiliae (3): GyrininaeHeterogyrinaeSpanglerogyrinae
Incertae sedis: †Anagyrinus – †Avitortor – †Gyrinopsis – †Protogyrininus


Gyrinidae Latreille, 1810
Primary references

Latreille, P.A. 1810. Considérations générales sur l'ordre naturel des animaux composant les classes des crustacés, des arachnides, et des insectes : avec un tableau méthodique de leurs genres, disposés en familles. Paris: Schoell, 444 pp. BHL Reference page.

Additional references

Beutel, R.G. 1990: Phylogenetic analysis of the family Gyrinidae (Coleoptera) based on meso- and metathoracic characters. Quaestiones Entomologicae, 26: 163–191.
Beutel, R.G.; Roughley, R.E. 1988: On the systematic position of the family Gyrinidae (Coleoptera: Adephaga). Z. zool. Syst. Evolut.-forsch, 26: 380–400.
Beutel, R.G.; Roughley, R.E. 1994: Phylogenetic analysis of Gyrinidae based on characters of the larval head (Coleoptera: Adephaga). Entomologica scandinavica, 24: 459–468.
Beutel, R.G.; Roughley, R.E. 2005: 7.1. Gyrinidae Latreille, 1810. Pp. 55-64 in: Beutel, R.G.; Leschen, R.A.B. (volume eds.) Coleoptera, beetles. Volume 1: Morphology and systematics (Archostemata, Adephaga, Myxophaga, Polyphaga partim). In: Kristensen, N.P. & Beutel, R.G. (eds.) Handbook of zoology. A natural history of the phyla of the animal kingdom. Volume IV. Arthropoda: Insecta. Part 38. Berlin, New York: Walter de Gruyter. ISBN 3110171309 contents limited preview
Fery, H., Benetti, C.J., Colpani, D. & Hamada, N. 2015. Notes on "A checklist of the Gyrinidae (Coleoptera: Adephaga) of Brazil" by Colpani et al. (2014). Zootaxa 4007(4): 588–591. DOI: 10.11646/zootaxa.4007.4.9. Preview (PDF) Reference page.
Gustafson, G.T. & Miller, K.B. 2013. On the family- and genus-series nomina in Gyrinidae Latreille, 1810 (Coleoptera, Adephaga). Zootaxa 3731(1): 77–105. DOI: 10.11646/zootaxa.3731.1.3 Paywall. ResearchGate Open access. Reference page.
Jäch, M.A.; Madl, M. 2009: Water beetles of Seychelles (Coleoptera). Pp. 11-35, plates 1-2 in: Gerlach, J. (ed.) The Coleoptera of the Seychelles Islands. Pensoft Publishers, Sofia-Moscow. ISBN 9789546424983
Lee, D.-H. & Ahn, K.-J. 2015. A taxonomic review of the Gyrinidae (Coleoptera) in Korea. ZooKeys 509: 87–107. DOI: 10.3897/zookeys.509.9442 Open access. Reference page.
Majka, C.G. 2008: The aquatic Coleoptera of Prince Edward Island, Canada: new records and faunal composition. ZooKeys 2: 239–260. DOI: 10.3897/zookeys.2.25 Reference page.
Majka, C.G.; Kenner, R.D. 2009: The Gyrinidae (Coleoptera) of the Maritime Provinces of Canada: new records, distribution, and faunal composition. In: Majka, C.G.; Klimaszewski, J. (eds) Biodiversity, biosystematics, and ecology of Canadian Coleoptera II. ZooKeys, 22: 355–372. DOI: 10.3897/zookeys.0.216
Mazzoldi, P. 2010: Gyrinidae (Coleoptera). Pp. 31-44 in: Jäch, M.A. & Balke, M. (eds.): Water beetles of New Caledonia (part 1). Monographs on Coleoptera, 3 [not seen]
Miller, K.B. & Bergsten, J. 2012. Phylogeny and classification of whirligig beetles (Coleoptera: Gyrinidae): relaxed-clock model outperforms parsimony and time-free Bayesian analyses. Systematic Entomology 37(4): 706–746. DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-3113.2012.00640.x Paywall. Reference page.
Polhemus, D.A. 2011: New distributional records for Gyrinidae (Insecta: Coleoptera) on New Guinea and nearby islands, with a checklist of the New Guinea species. Zootaxa, 2900: 51–68. Preview
Roughley, R.E. 2000: 7. GYRINIDAE Latreille, 1810. Pp. 133-137 in: Arnett, R.H., jr.; Thomas, M.C. (eds.): American beetles. Volume 1. Archostemata, Myxophaga, Adephaga, Polyphaga: Staphyliniformia. CRC Press LLC, Boca Raton, Florida. limited preview on Google books
Catalogue of Palearctic Coleoptera. Vol. 1 ed. I. Lobl, & A. Smetana, Apollo Books, Stenstrup, Denmark, 2003 and 2004
ISBN 87-88757-73-0, p.26


Australian Faunal Directory
Tree of Life Web Project. 1995. Gyrinidae. Whirlygig beetles. Version 01 January 1995 (temporary) in The Tree of Life Web Project
Atlas of the family Gyrinidae of Russia
Gyrinidae. Checklist of Genera and Subgenera

Vernacular names
беларуская: Вертуны
čeština: Vírníkovití
Deutsch: Taumelkäfer
English: whirligig beetles, whirlygig beetles
Esperanto: Skribistet
suomi: Hopeasepät
français: Gyrin
magyar: Keringőbogarak
日本語: ミズスマシ科
한국어: 물맴이과
Nederlands: Schrijvertje
polski: Krętakowate
русский: Вертячки
svenska: Virvelbaggar
中文: 豉甲科

The whirligig beetles are a family (Gyrinidae) of water beetles that usually swim on the surface of the water if undisturbed, though they swim underwater when threatened. They get their common name from their habit of swimming rapidly in circles when alarmed, and are also notable for their divided eyes which are believed to enable them to see both above and below water.[1] The family includes some 700 extant species worldwide, in 15 genera, plus a few fossil species. Most species are very similar in general appearance, though they vary in size from perhaps 3 mm to 18 mm in length.[2] They tend to be flattened and rounded in cross section, in plain view as seen from above, and in longitudinal section. In fact their shape is a good first approximation to an ellipsoid, with legs and other appendages fitting closely into a streamlined surface.


The Gyrinidae generally have been regarded as a family in the Adephaga, but there is a great deal of work underway to clarify the relationships both within the Adephaga and within the Coleoptera in general.[3] Within the Adephaga there is confusion as well, with various rival proposals in contention; for example some workers regard the Gyrinidae as being closely related to such families as the Dytiscidae and various other predacious water beetle families, whereas other analyses suggest rather that the Gyrinidae are a sister group to the rest of the Adephaga.[4] Some of the Adephagan families seem to be polyphyletic themselves, so a definitive cladistic structure will have to await more advanced nucleic acid analyses.[5]

Whirligig beetles are most conspicuous for their bewildering swimming. Their coloration is not showy and they can be quite hard to see if they are not moving or are under water. However, most species are handsomely coloured with a sombre lustre of steely grey or bronze. Their integument is finely sculpted with little pits; it is hard and elastic and produces a water repellent waxy outer layer, which is constantly supplemented. Among other functions, the lubricant layer and smooth outline make the beetles remarkably difficult to hold on to if caught; they slip from between one's fingers like a fresh orange pip.[6]

The antennae are unusual among beetles, being short and plump, and placed about at water level. The compound eyes are remarkable for each being divided into a higher part that is above water level when a beetle is floating passively, and a lower part that is below water level.[1] In this respect they recall the horizontally divided eyes of the four-eyed fishes (Anableps), which also live at the surface of the water. The middle, and more especially the hind legs are adapted for swimming (natatory): they are greatly flattened and fringed with bristles that fold to aid swimming action. In contrast the front legs are long and adapted for grasping food or prey. In males the front tarsi have suckers, which are used to hold onto the slippery female during mating.[1]
Behavior and morphological adaptations

The Gyrinidae are surface swimmers for preference. They are known for the bewildering and rapid gyrations in which they swim, and for their gregarious behavior. Most species also can fly well, even taking off from water if need be. The combination constitutes a survival strategy that helps them to avoid predation and take advantage of mating opportunities. In general the adults occupy areas where water flows steadily and not too fast, such as minor rapids and narrows in leisurely streams. Such places supply a good turnover of floating detritus or struggling insects or other small animals that have fallen in and float with the current.

The positions that individuals occupy within a group are determined by a number of factors, thought to include hunger, sex, species, water temperature, age, parasite level and stress level. Research underway on their behavior is directed at investigating the significance of chemical defense in relation to their position in the group. Such studies are of interest in research into aspects of nanotechnology because the beetles' motion may be expected to provide insights into how groups of robots might coordinate movements.

In particular the beetles make behavioral trade-offs that affect their choices of positions within a group. For example, relatively hungry beetles go to the outside of a group, where there is less competition for finding food, but higher risk of encountering predators. Males are also more likely to be found on the outside of groups (although grouping is not known to be relevant to mating behavior in this family). The economies that the beetles can gain by suitably adjusting their positions within the group, are important when individuals swim against the flow of a stream. By swimming behind other beetles they can take advantage of forward-moving drafts. Such action is called drafting. The determination of forward/backward positioning within a group has been found to be affected in a complex manner by a combination of water speed, sex of the beetle, and the type of predator (bird or fish) that a beetle has most recently observed.

The beetles could use the waves generated by their moving as a sort of radar to detect the position of object on the water surface around them. This technique could be used to detect prey or to avoid colliding each other. [7]

The adult beetles carry a bubble of air trapped beneath their elytra. This allows them to dive and swim under well-oxygenated water for indefinite periods if necessary. The mechanism is sophisticated and amounts to a physical gill. In practice though, their ecological adaptation is for the adults to scavenge and hunt on the water surface, so they seldom stay down for long. The larvae have paired plumose tracheal gills on each of the first eight abdominal segments.

Generally, gyrinids lay their eggs under water, attached to water plants, typically in rows. Like the adults, the larvae are active predators, largely benthic inhabitants of the stream bed and aquatic plants. They have long thoracic legs with paired claws. Their mandibles are curved, pointed, and pierced with a sucking canal. In this they resemble the larvae of many other predatory water beetles, such as the Dytiscidae. Mature larvae pupate in a cocoon that also is attached to water plants.
Larva and Adult
Gyrinus Head, lateral aspect showing placement of antenna and divided compound eye
Hind leg of Gyrinus

Antenna of Gyrinus


†Angarogyrus (fossil) Early Jurassic-Early Cretaceous (Asia)

†Mesogyrus (fossil) Late Jurassic-Early Cretaceous, Asia
†Cretotortor (fossil) Late Cretaceous-Paleocene (Asia)
†Baissogyrus (fossil) Zaza Formation, Russia, Aptian

†Cretodineutus Liang et al. 2020 Burmese amber, Cenomanian
†Mesodineutes (fossil) Darmakan Formation, Russia, Danian
†Miodineutes (fossil) Germany, Miocene
†Chimerogyrus[11](fossil) Burmese amber, Cenomanian
Incertae sedis
†Anagyrinus (fossil) Insektenmergel Formation, Switzerland, Hettangian
†Cretogyrus Zhao et al. 2019 Burmese amber, Cenomanian
†Gyrinopsis (fossil) Insektenmergel Formation, Switzerland, Hettangian


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Miller, K.B.; Bergsten, J. (2012). "Phylogeny and classification of whirligig beetles (Coleoptera: Gyrinidae): relaxed-clock model outperforms parsimony and time-free Bayesian analyses". Systematic Entomology. 37 (4): 706–746. doi:10.1111/j.1365-3113.2012.00640.x.
Gustafson, G.T.; Miller, K.B. (2013). "On the family- and genus-series nomina in Gyrinidae Latreille, 1810 (Coleoptera, Adephaga)". Zootaxa. 3731 (1): 77–105. doi:10.11646/zootaxa.3731.1.3.
Gustafson, G.T.; Prokin, A.A.; Bukontaite, R.; Bersten, J.; Miller, K.B. (2017). "Tip-dated phylogeny of whirligig beetles reveals ancient lineage surviving on Madagascar". Scientific Reports. 7: 8619. doi:10.1038/s41598-017-08403-1.

Gustafson, Grey T.; Michat, Mariano C.; Balke, Michael (2020). "Burmese amber reveals a new stem lineage of whirligig beetle (Coleoptera: Gyrinidae) based on the larval stage". Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society. 189 (4): 1232–1248. doi:10.1093/zoolinnean/zlz161. PMC 7398075.

Ross H. Arnett, Jr. & Michael C. Thomas (2001). American Beetles. CRC Press.
William L. Romey; Rossman, David S (1995). "Temperature and hunger alter grouping trade-offs in whirligig beetles". The American Midland Naturalist. 134 (1): 51–62. doi:10.2307/2426482. JSTOR 2426482.
William L. Romey (1995). "Position preferences within groups: do whirligigs select positions which balance feeding opportunities with predator avoidance?". Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology. 37 (3): 195–200. doi:10.1007/BF00176717.
William L. Romey & Abigail C. Wallace (2007). "Sex and the selfish herd: sexual segregation within nonmating whirligig groups". Behavioral Ecology. 18 (5): 910–915. doi:10.1093/beheco/arm057.
William L. Romey & Emily Galbraith (2008). "Optimal group positioning after a predator attack: the influence of speed, sex, and satiation within mobile whirligig swarms". Behavioral Ecology. 19 (2): 338–343. doi:10.1093/beheco/arm138.

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