Little Miracles in the Stream

Little Miracles in the Stream

Not long ago I wrote an essay celebrating mayflies. (Read here). Last Saturday I took a very deep dive into the early lives of mayflies and other aquatic macroinvertebrates. Learning more about them was so mind-blowing, I’m still seeing images of hundreds of tiny…or not so tiny…creepy-looking critters that came out of our kick net sampling and went into small water-filled cubes as we sorted them. It’s so overwhelmingly cool, I can hardly find words to express it.

In the Southeast, there are 9 families and 294 species of stoneflies. There are 21 families and 300 species of mayflies in the Southeast. Caddisflies have 663 species and 21 families in the same region. Does anyone else find that amazing?

For those so inclined to know more, here’s a bit of information. During the first year or two of their lives, they are all found underwater, living on the bottom, under rocks and leaves, on underwater branches. They all look like buggy creatures but there are ways to tell them apart. For instance, stoneflies have two tails, two claws, no abdominal gills (yes…these critters have gills!!), and two pair of wing pads. Mayflies usually have three tails (sometimes two), one claw and abdominal gills. Caddisflies are more like wormy creatures with legs and curl into a C shape. They also have anal hooks. 

That’s the majority of the critters we find in our benthic realm. But there are also dragonfly nymphs, beetles, hellgrammites, flies, midges, sowbugs, damselflies…and the snails, crayfish, leeches, scuds, worms, and muscles and clams. There is an amazing amount of life along the bottom of our streams and rivers.

Let me clarify the ‘amazing amount of life’ statement. In good water quality, we see more species. We also learned, from EQI instructors, that all of these creatures have different tolerances of pollution and sediment levels. By collecting biological samples, then sorting and counting, scientists can get a good idea of the water quality. The years of data EQI has collected gives a wonderful health check for various watersheds and bodies of water within those watersheds. 

For now, I don’t want to dive deeper into the scientific data part. That’s vitally important; however, what touched me so deeply was the profound diversity of life we have in our area. The web of life gets more and more precious to me as I learn more about it, as I understand the interconnectedness of all life. It’s miraculous….at least that’s my word of explanation.

The more I learn, the more miraculous life seems. It all works together so beautifully, as long as we don’t interfere with pollution, sediment, agricultural run-off. 

Here’s to the giant shredder stoneflies and the 2-tailed flattened scrapers. The spiny turtle mayflies, the gravel coffin case caddisflies…and all the amazing creatures that create such profound bio-diversity in Western North Carolina.

And to EQI for creating such a positive impact in our area. Click the link to learn more about this nonprofit laboratory. “We curate reliable and objective data, expand awareness about regional water quality, and provide technical support to nonprofits, local governments, educational institutions, and communities to drive environmental improvements.”

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