I shall begin today’s Friday 5 with a quick true story. Imagine a girl of 21 who loves insects and is applying to grad school. She knows she wants to be an entomologist, but she hasn’t narrowed down her area of focus. All she knows is she loves dragonflies, those gorgeous aquatic insects that flit happily around streams, wetlands, and ponds. She applies to schools and then has to choose which one to go to. She eventually chooses Arizona, where she will work with an aquatic entomologist. She tells her family members the good news: she’s moving to Arizona to work on dragonflies! Hooray! Now imagine the look of dismay on the face of each relative when she tells them. That look is followed by what quickly becomes the dreaded question: “You’re going to Arizona to study AQUATIC insects?!”
So, yeah. My family generally thought I’d lost it when I told them I was packing up and moving to Arizona for grad school. Never mind that a good number of them had been to Arizona several times themselves and know that there’s a decent amount of water here. I myself remember trips to the local spring-fed oasis and several streams in the mountains when I lived here as a young child and came back to visit my grandparents. I knew there was water here and I wasn’t going to let any of those naysayers get me down. I was going to study aquatic insects in the desert, gosh darn it!
Since I started grad school, I’ve had the opportunity to visit many, many aquatic habitats in Arizona. Some of them, like the area where I do my summer field work, are appallingly disgusting. Others are gorgeous and pristine. Today I’m going to share my top 5 places to collect aquatic insects in Arizona. Some are favorite locations due to the insects they contain and others because the area itself is so amazing, but they’re all special to me.
Arivaipa Creek. I just wrote about this creek, so I won’t say much more here. This creek is one of my favorites because getting to go there is something special in and of itself. The area is also incredibly beautiful and is home to some fantastic insects. Really love this creek! Check out the post linked above if you would like more information about the area or my recent trip there.
Madera Canyon. I’ve been going to this canyon stream all my life. In fact, some of the very first photos I ever took were at Madera! Madera Canyon is in the Santa Rita Mountains south of Tucson and east of Green Valley, AZ. The creek flows mostly over the big rocks you see in the photo, and for the most part it flows year round. (Yes, I count that little 4 inch wide trickle you sometimes get in the summer as “flow!”). Madera is very pretty, but I also love the insects I find there: lots of caddisflies, sunburst beetles, two types of whirligig beetles, water scorpions, fly larvae, lots of other beetles and bugs. The creek is even home to a unique beetle (an riffle beetle) that is thought to be found only in this one creek! The downside is the canyon is VERY popular for birding (there are some rarely spotted birds there), so there are usually a lot of people there.
Reynolds Creek. I recently wrote about aquatic insects with suction cups and described my joy at discovering net-winged midge larvae for the first time. I found them in this creek. Reynolds Creek is in the mountains south of Young, AZ and north of Globe. It’s way out in the middle of nowhere, so it’s usually visited only by campers and hikers. The pine forest surrounding the creek is stunning and the water is cold and clear, so it is an entirely pleasant place to spend a few hours or the night. There are all kinds of interesting things in this creek too. However, the sheer elation I experience every time I find the blepharacerid fly larvae here would be enough to keep me coming back, even if there was nothing else to find.
Salt River (a few miles upstream of Roosevelt Lake). The Salt River is one of the few big, perennial rivers in Arizona. As such, it is heavily utilized by people who enjoy water sports (tubing and rafting are both very popular – the location in the photo is a raft pullout point) and is therefore far from pristine. However, this is still one of my favorite places to collect. The water flows swiftly and powerfully, and it gets quite deep in places. This means that there are some excellent flow-adapted insects in the river. My favorite: the gigantic hellgrammites this river produces! They’re close to 3 inches long and they’re fierce. In fact, I tell my aquatic entomology students to put them into their own bags when they collect them from this river. The hellgrammites will eat everything else in the bag before they expire, leaving you with a single bloated hellgrammite floating amongst an assortment of insect legs. This river is also one of the only places I’ve found sisyrid larvae, but I’ll discuss them further in a future post.
Three Forks. Three Forks is located in the White Mountains east of Alpine, AZ at the confluence of the East Fork of the Black River, Coyote Creek, and Boneyard Creek. The photo doesn’t do this location justice at all as the bright sun at the high elevation consistently causes me problems when photographing this area. Three Forks is a high elevation, cold, fast flowing stream, so it’s got some great insects in it. My favorites are the water pennies, the flat mayflies (heptageniids), and the aquatic moth larvae. You can only collect in specific areas of Three Forks though. It has become a conservation site for an endangered snail that is being decimated by invasive crayfish, so you now need special permission to access the protected area.
So those are my top 5 areas in Arizona for collecting aquatic insects! If you ever visit Arizona, any of these places are well worth visiting even if you have no interest in collecting. I think they are some of the most beautiful areas of Arizona.
I wish everyone a happy New Year!
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