Bugging out

by Katie Bowell, Curator of Cultural Interpretation

Normally, insects and museums aren’t a good mix. In fact, museums are often downright terrified of insects, with cockroaches, beetles, moth larvae, and silverfish (to name only a few) capable of destroying artifacts made of anything organic, including wood, leather, wool and paper. As a self-professed “insect geek,” I’d love nothing more than to see our museum with a gallery full of terrariums teeming with termites and tarantulas (yes, I know, spiders aren’t insects. But the alliteration was so good, and the only other “t” word I could think of was “Trichoptera,” which are caddisflies, and if I used that there’d be no hiding how truly geeky I really am). Since I’m pretty sure our collections curator won’t allow insects inside the museum, I’ve started thinking of other ways to incorporate insects.

One fabulous, yet perhaps unexpected, way comes in the form of the Poudre River, which will be our neighbor once our new museum facility is built. But when people think about where to find insects, they don’t often think about insects living in the water. Insects fly, crawl, and occasionally come up your shower drain, but swim? Yep. There’s a whole world of aquatic insects most of us know little about.

A few Saturdays ago I had the pleasure to go aquatic insect collecting in the Poudre River at Lions Park with Dr. Boris Kondratieff, Professor of Entomology at Colorado State University, and staff from the City of Fort Collin’s WaterSHED (Stormwater Habitat Education Development) team. It was freezing, rainy, and grey – not the type of day you’d expect to find insects – but as I and other participants soon learned, the Poudre was full of them.

We found our insects by kick netting, which involves sticking a net down into the water and gently kicking the river bed with our feet to loosen the substrate. Anything hiding in the soil gets swept into the net by the current. Technique is important here, especially the skill of not falling into the river while kicking in waders 3 sizes too big (I’m still mastering that one). Very quickly, all of us had nets full of insect larvae. Most insects that have a “water stage” do so as larvae, with the adults leaving the water and looking nothing like the larvae they were.

Some of the highlights of the incredible (and often creepy looking) insects we found were:

-Crane fly larvae bigger than my little finger

-The caterpillar of an aquatic moth (the caterpillar is aquatic, not the moth), which, it turns out, can be parasitized by an aquatic wasp – crazy!

-larvae of Stonefly species that Dr. Kondratieff said haven’t been given names yet

In part two of this post, I’ll explore how important aquatic insects are to the ecosystem, and give you some tips on finding and observing insects yourself.

The Poudre River at Lion's Park (photo: Cache La Poudre River National Heritage Area)

The Poudre River at Lion's Park (photo: Cache La Poudre River National Heritage Area)

Tipulidae adult (photo: Tom Murray)

Tipulidae (crane fly) adult (photo: Tom Murray)

Tipulidae (crane fly) larva (photo: Cuckoo's Wasp)

Tipulidae (crane fly) larva (photo: Cuckoo's Wasp)

Moth adult (photo: Dale Parker)

Moth adult (photo: Dale Parker)

Moth larva (photo: Dale Parker)

Moth larva (photo: Dale Parker)

Plecoptera (stonefly) adult (photo: F. Prieto)

Plecoptera (stonefly) larva (photo: F. Prieto)

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1 Response to “Bugging out”



  1. 1 Bugging out (part II) « More to Explore Trackback on May 25, 2009 at 8:21 am
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