The kinematics and hydrodynamics of swimming chironomid larvae were investigated with the aid of videography and dye streamers used to visualize near-body flow. Chironomids employ a characteristic ‘figure-of-eight’ swimming technique based on high-amplitude side-to-side bending of the body. These scissor-like movements produce relatively slow (two body lengths (BL) s−1) forward motion but also serve to support the weight of the insect against its own negative buoyancy. The main wake element identified by the present technique consisted of a discrete ring vortex with an external diameter of c. 0.3 BL which was shed to the rear of the body towards the end of each half-stroke. During level swimming, the jet of the vortex was directed 10° below the horizontal plane indicating that it was mainly providing thrust. An additional, but poorly defined, flow was associated with the rapid downwards motion of the head at the start of each half-stroke and it is proposed that this contributes to the vertical force needed to support the weight of the body during swimming.