A Stream Story

The weekends are technically off for the Photography 101 course I’m taking, but they make suggestions for ways to practice for those who are feeling gung-ho.  This weekend they suggested creating a series of photos that captured an entire scene.  It had been a while since I had been to the stream at work to look for insects, so I decided my series would include the stream…

Stream

Stream

… and the things I was able to find in it.  I’ve wanted to get photos of the insects in the stream for a while now anyway for a little field guide I’m working on for an educational program I do with high schoolers.  I did catch one fish and one crayfish that I put back, so this isn’t a complete series.  However, I was really worried either might try to eat this:

Stonefly

Stonefly

A stonefly!  In the oft-flooding, strange stream I wrote about for my “Mystery” post.  I was so excited to find this that I was jumping up and down and shouting.  Happily it was rainy and cool and there was no one anywhere near me to see me make a fool of myself, but I was excited.  I believe my level of enthusiasm for stoneflies is a holdover from the stream insect work I did in Arizona.  Stoneflies require really clean, flowing, cold water, and you only got two out of the three at best in a lot of the streams I worked on in the desert.  Stoneflies were always this amazing thing to find, something absolutely worth getting excited about, because you just didn’t see them often. They’re far more common in North Carolina, but I rarely find them in this stream, so I still feel my reaction was justified.  :)

Because it had just rained a fair bit and the water was muddy, suggesting at least some minor flooding had occurred, I wasn’t sure I was going to find anything in the stream. I was thrilled to find what I went to look for in the first place on my first dip:

Broad-winged damselfly nymph

Broad-winged damselfly nymph

That’s a broad-winged damselfly, an ebony jewelwing.  They like to lurk in the exposed root masses at the base of trees in the deeper areas of this stream.  I tend to overtop my boots a lot going after them, but they are totally worth it every time.  As you can see in the photo, broad-winged damselfly nymphs have a very long first antennal segment, about as long as all the other segments of the antennae combined, which makes them sort of alien looking.  They also have this sort of jerky movement.  I love them!

These little rock clumps I found on the underside of a larger rock contain insects:

Caddisfly pupal cases

Caddisfly pupal cases

There are pupae of caddisflies developing inside those.  Caddisflies are far and away the most common insects I find in this stretch of the stream, so I was not surprised to find these.  I did not, however, find any larvae, just the pupae.  Guess I’ll have to make another trip down there sometime later in the year for those.  Oh darn…

And last, just because I couldn’t resist, a vertebrate:

Salamander

Salamander

North Carolina is a hotspot for salamanders, so it’s always fun to find these.  (This is another holdover from Arizona – I saw one total salamander there in 20 years, despite working in many salamander-friendly habitats!)  I managed to get a good 20 of these little guys in my net today, and all of them were juveniles that still had their gills.  You can see the gills just above the leg.  These salamanders are awfully cute little buggers! I’ll take a few more photos of this little guy in the morning and then back into the stream he’ll go, along with his temporary stonefly and damselfly roommates.

If I had to work on a Sunday, today was a great day to do it!  It was cool and rainy, not to mention Easter, so I had the entire field station to myself all day.  And even though it had rained and the stream was a little higher and a little muddier than usual, I still managed to get a few things I need photos of for my guide.  Mucking about in a stream on a cloudy day – not a bad way to spend a day!

_______________

Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth.

Advertisements

Mystery

Today’s Photography 101 topic is mystery, and here’s my photo:

Stream

I post this photo because I’ve been working on this stream for a while to solve a mystery.  The water quality is good here – surprisingly good for an urban stream – and the insects you find here frequently back that up.  I’ve found riffle beetles and stoneflies here on occasion, insects that are only found in very clean waters.  However, you don’t find them every time.  In fact, you usually find almost no insects at all!

For the past three years, I’ve been working with some high school students to study this stream to try to explain the lack of insects.  What we’ve found so far suggests that flooding is the primary factor influencing the insect population in this stream.  While we still need to collect more data, particularly after a flood event, to be sure that it’s the flow that drives the lack of biodiversity in this stream, but I’m feeling more and more confident that this is the case and that we’re close to finally solving this mystery.

_______________

Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth.

Plague of Midges (Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday)

Last weekend I went to an environmental education conference.  Apparently there had been a mass emergence of midges shortly before we arrived because the whole place looked like this:

Masses of Midges

Masses of midges

So, SO many midges!  On the other hand, the massive all you can eat buffet of flies made for some good reptile and amphibian sightings.  I got to watch a green tree frog sitting under a light absolutely gorging himself, which was awfully cute.  There were more spiders out and about than I’d ever seen too.  Pretty darned cool!

_______________

Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth

Photobomber (Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday)

A couple of weekends ago, I went to the mountains of North Carolina to look for hellbenders.  For those of you unfamiliar with these magnificent creatures, they’re HUGE salamanders, as in foot-long salamanders!  I learned they lived in NC shortly after I moved here and wanted to see them in the wild, so I finally went to look for them.  Saw one too!  SO exciting.

Knowing I was going to be hanging around mountain rivers for two days, I brought along one of my little glass aquaria so I could get some aquatic insects-in-water shots.  I was having troubles with silty water and streaks on the outside of the container while attempting to photograph a juvenile green frog and was getting frustrated.  I had finally lined up what I expected to be a decent shot, when this happened:

Green frog with photobombing stonefly

Green frog with photobombing stonefly

A stonefly totally photobombed the frog! Gah!  The frog jerked and stirred everything up again, so I never did get a good photo of my frog.    Thanks a lot, stonefly…

_______________

Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth

Crayfish (Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday)

This is the first week of summer camps at the field station where I work and I’ve been doing daily citizen science programs with the middle schoolers that make up this week’s campers. Today we got into the stream to assess water quality, my favorite thing to do with groups like this! We didn’t find many bugs, just some caddisflies and a crane fly larva, the normal sort of condition of our stream, but the kids found a whole lot of crayfish. This was the biggest one we found:

crayfish

Crayfish – rawr!

Sadly, the kids thought this little guy was WAY more exciting than the tiny net-building caddisflies we found, but I suppose we don’t all appreciate the gloriousness of caddisflies… :)

_______________

Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth

Birth of a Backswimmer (Friday 5)

A few months ago, I posted a series of photos for Friday 5 that depicted the development of aquatic snail eggs.  In addition to the two species of snails I had in my tank at the time were a bunch of backswimmers in the genus Notonecta.  The morning after I put them in the tank, I came across a bunch of what could only be backswimmer eggs attached to a leaf, so I started photographing them.  I thought their development was fascinating and spent a little over two weeks watching the snail and the backswimmer eggs to see what happened.  Today I give you the Notonecta part of the story!

The eggs started out looking like what I would consider pretty standard true bug eggs:

Notonecta eggs, 1 day old

Notonecta eggs, 1 day old

They were simple to start off, just translucent white cylindrical eggs with rounded ends.  Many eggs were attached to this leaf in a sort of neat little line along the edges, but there were others attached to rocks and even a few stuck to the large rams horn snail that was oozing its way around the tank, so I suspect this was simply a convenient place to deposit them rather than a preferred method of placement.  In just under a week, some changes were evident:

Notonecta eggs, 6 days old

Notonecta eggs, 6 days old

This photo isn’t as well focused as I’d like, but it illustrates two things.   First, the structure of insect egg shells is absolutely stunning!  All of that patterning mirrors the cells that laid down the chorion (= the insect eggshell), so you’re effectively looking at structure of the mother’s internal organs when you look at an insect chorion.  In both eggs you can also see some faint red markings, more distinctly in the egg on the right.  Those red patches are the developing eyes of the backswimmers, so you can see which end is the head and which is the tail.  What was previously a little cylinder of bug goo had turned into the start of a baby insect with clear evidence of the changes visible without dissecting the egg in just a few days.

Things started to change more rapidly after the first eye spots were visible.  By day 10, the eggs looked like this:

Notonecta eggs, 10 days old

Notonecta eggs, 10 days old

The red eye patches had taken on the shape of backswimmer eyes by this point.  You could also see some black markings within the egg.  The bugs inside were clearly further along than they had been.  You could also easily spot the eggs that were not developing and were never going to hatch at this point.  The egg on the left side of the image was having problems and wasn’t developing properly – it has no eyes or any black patterning visible.  It never hatched.

Shortly before they hatched, you could see all sorts of structures inside the eggs:

Notonecta eggs, 18 days old

Notonecta eggs, 18 days old

You can’t see it very well without enlarging the photo (click to enlarge!), but you can see the outline of the plates on the upper surface of the thorax, the legs, and that the black markings are part of the legs.  By this point, the eggs were two and half weeks old and a few had hatched.  The empty chorions in the lower right corner highlight the cap of the egg the nymph inside popped open to emerge from the egg and a membrane that lined the chorion.  The eggs in this image hatched over three days (if they hatched at all), so they seemed to have some variability in their developmental times.

This is what came out of the egg:

Notonecta first instar

Notonecta first instar

The first instar nymphs were tiny, just a few millimeters long.  You can clearly see the bright red eyes and the black claws, both of which were visible through the egg chorion as they developed.  And, as a bonus this week, this is what these tiny nymphs eventually turn into:

Notonecta mature adult

Notonecta mature adult

The coloration becomes a lot more complex, they gain wings, and their bodies elongate relative to their width as they age.  Check out those gorgeous eyes on the adult!  And, these insects are fairly large, about 1 cm, which means that they have to grow a lot to become adults, and they do it very quickly.  That tiny nymph emerges from the egg and molts just 5 times before it becomes an adult, which means massive growth spurts each time they molt.

I know it probably makes me weird, but I love watching insect eggs develop!  They undergo some pretty amazing changes in a very short amount of time, plus they’re beautiful to look at and you can often see through the chorion and peek at what’s happening inside.  Eggs might not move, but they’re still fascinating and I am thrilled I got an opportunity to document how these eggs developed!  I hope at least some of you find it as interesting as I did.  :)

_______________

Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth

Aquatic Insects and Bioblitzes (Friday 5)

A few weeks ago, I was given a really fun opportunity to be a part of a bioblitz workshop.  Bioblitzes, for those unfamiliar with them, are biodiversity documentation events, often done over a short time period and at a specific facility, to document and/or monitor the species present on the grounds.  Bioblitzes often invite the public to take part as a way to get help collecting and identifying species while also teaching everyone about local natural history.  The workshop was geared toward park and environmental education center staff that are interested in using bioblitzes to make sound management decisions and/or educate the public.  A variety of scientists demonstrated how to collect or otherwise document a range of species, including reptiles and amphibians, small mammals, large mammals, birds, plants, and insects.

Guess which part I taught?  Aquatic insects!  I manged to get about half of the 40 participants actually IN the water to look around for aquatic insects in the urban stream that flows through the park hosting the workshop and we found… not a lot.  The neighborhood adjacent to the stream has an awful drainage system that dumps all the runoff right into the stream without any sort of filtration, so the stream floods often.  Still, we found some interesting things!  They included this:

Net spinning caddisfly larva

Net spinning caddisfly larva (Hydropsychidae)

That’s a type of net-spinning caddisfly!  They build little silken nets across rocks in swiftly flowing areas of streams to catch food, then hook themselves into the nets.  While caddisflies in general are considered good indicators of water quality, this particular group is capable of reaching HUGE population sizes in some quite heavily disturbed areas.  Still, always fun to find caddisflies.  We also found some adults:

Net spinning caddisfly

Net-spinning caddisfly adult

This little guy was hanging out on a blacklighting sheet, presumably in the same spot it had sat the night before.  Caddisfly adults look a lot like moths, but instead of having scales on their wings they have hairs.  Their order name, Trichoptera, means hairy wing, so it’s easy to remember this distinguishing characteristic if you know your roots.

We also found these lovely larvae in the stream:

Crane fly larva

Crane fly larva

Crane flies!!  They’re huge and squishy and ooze all over when you catch them, so they’re really quite gross.  Many have gnarly looking fleshy bits on the back end that they use to breathe (which naturally makes them exciting to me!) and some have a sort of ribbed appearance like this one.  Unlike a lot of fly larvae, they actually have a complete, hardened head, but they keep it retracted inside their bodies.  I enjoy finding these larvae and they’re really fun to show off to people when you find them in a stream.  That huge monster ends up turning into something like this:

Crane fly

Crane fly

I know I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: crane flies are harmless to people!  A lot of people are scared of them and many think they bite, but they do not.  They’re also not giant mosquitoes – completely different groups!  I think they are really beautiful.

I’m going to wrap up with this

Common baskettail

Common baskettail

There weren’t a lot of dragonflies out during the workshop as the dragonflies were really just starting to come out, but one of the reptile and amphibian guys found this dragonfly on the ground.  It was still alive, but clearly had some issues when it emerged as an adult and I doubt its wings worked.  Granted, I have seen some butterflies flying with as little as a wing and a half, so who knows?  Maybe this little dragonfly is still zipping around the pond, hunting insects and having a great adult life!

Even though I’ve participated in enough bioblitzes and done field work with enough scientists that I didn’t learn many new things about how to sample for a variety of organisms, I still had a great time at the workshop!  The people who attended were really excited about it all, so it was a lovely, energetic group.  I also got to see a white-footed mouse, a great horned owl, several turtles and frogs (including a new-to-the-park’s-species-list river cooter), a new-to-me dragonfly species, and a variety of insects.  Plus, I got to spend an afternoon in a stream teaching people about aquatics!  It’s hard to beat a day spent with other nature geeks.  Hope I get to do it again soon!

_______________

Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth