Stalking the Stream Critters, aka “Benthic Macroinvertebrates”

By Cindy Ellis

Recently I joined volunteers who wanted to know more about living beings in West Virginia’s waterways. Fifteen of us gathered on the banks of Davis Creek in Kanawha State Forest on a mild spring day to learn about flipping rocks and finding what lies beneath. We plunged into our lessons and were led to define a “macro” water creature as one not needing a microscope. Also, a 7-year-old among us knew and told what an “invertebrate” was, so, on April 6, our group was ready for a WV DEP/WV Rivers stream workshop.

After an introduction by Autumn Crowe of the West Virginia Rivers Coalition, Department of Environmental Protection’s Glenn Nelson and Tim Craddock led us through the basics. We were a diverse group, in age and purpose, but quite a number of us are already participating in stream surveys through a citizen science project of WV Rivers Coalition and Trout Unlimited. West Virginia Highlands Conservancy itself has contributed to training sessions and equipment for gauging the physical health of a streams, especially those with a potential to be impacted by the increase in construction of mega-pipelines here. Stream invertebrates can be one indicator of the well-being of our waterways.

We were briefed on the organisms most likely to be found and were eager to explore. So, armed with kick-nets, buckets, trays, tweezers, strainers and brushes, we teamed up to apply our new information. “I found one!” was immediately and repeatedly heard from Henry the youngest student of the day. And the rest of us found some too.

For many, this was a first look at caddisfly nests, and underwater forms of crane flies, dragonflies, stoneflies and mayflies. Seeing the little gills flutter was entrancing. We found beetles and a hellgrammite too…and one non-insect; a crawdad.

Nelson and Craddock were patient and enthusiastic teachers. They educate about water “bugs” and much more as part of the DEP’s “Save Our Streams” program.

We left Davis Creek at the end of the session happy with our new information and eager to put it into practice. One can hope that the growth of programs such as this are evidence of a new interest in the health of the streams of the Mountain State…and of a willingness by more and more citizens to monitor our waters.

[Please note this link and this caution: “Entities wishing to collect benthic macroinvertebrates from West Virginia streams for basic environmental research studies or permitting projects will need to obtain a scientific collection permit from the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources”]