“They Don’t Look Alike”

Jean LaLonde
Education Committee Chair
Muskegon River Watershed Assembly

“Have you ever been told you look just like your mom or dad?” When third graders from Big Rapids area schools came to my teaching station on May 10th at Cran-Hill Ranch I asked them all that question. As they thought about that, I showed them examples of the aquatic insects I brought for them to check out. Kids seem to feel a certain affinity for bugs and since I had their attention, it was easy to impart a bit of knowledge that will hopefully make a lasting impression. It is what we call a teaching moment.  

Jean LaLonde Education Committee Chair Muskegon River Watershed Assembly

Jean LaLonde
Education Committee Chair
Muskegon River Watershed Assembly

The MRWA and other environmental organizations were on hand to participate in the Agriculture and Natural Resource Day, a learning event sponsored by The Mecosta County Michigan State Extension office.

These pre-flight baby insects are called macroinvertebrates and the puzzling part of identifying them is that they do not resemble their adult stages. The kids were excited to learn that a flying insect they knew well as a dragonfly was once a swimming bug living in a river or stream.  When asked to match up the actual specimens in my tray to a picture of the adult they guessed wrong most often.

The adult dragonfly as we all know it, darts about with iridescent wings, looking like nature’s helicopter. However, in its nymphal stage it is anything but graceful. A large, sneaky, lightning fast predator, it attacks all smaller macroinvertebrates as well as small tadpoles and fish. It will even eat smaller dragonfly nymphs. While hiding in dark places and shallow water, it will catapult itself towards the unsuspecting victim. By using a special water propulsion method and a large lower lip this bully of the deep lurches out to snatch up its prey.

Most dragonflies can live out this life of under-water predation for up to 4 years living in slow moving creeks or ponds. However, the nymph stage of some species can last from 6 months to 7 years. In the spring, the nymph pulls its old self out of the water and climbs up a tall reed or other surface. Here, it slowly and miraculously extracts its new and beautiful body from its old one.  

As MRWA education committee chair, I volunteered to share these and other fun facts about the macroinvertebrates that live in the rivers and streams that flow into the Muskegon River. The point I tried to make and the message I left them with is that bugs are good: the more macroinvertebrates that live in a stream the better. It is absolutely the best sign of a healthy river system.

If you are interested in learning more about the variety of aquatic insects that live in our watershed and prefer being intimately involved rather than from a distance, I have a recommendation for you.

Consider participating in the stream monitoring program. The MRWA coordinates the program through a grant from Michigan Clean Water Corps (MiCorps). MiCorps was created to assist the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) in collecting and sharing water quality data for use in water resource management and protection programs.  

MRWA education committee members train MiCorps volunteers to identify the basic species of macroinvertebrates found in state water, along with proper collection techniques. We provide the the necessary tools and materials including a net, collection jars and an identification book.

With our guidance, volunteers select a suitable section of stream within the Muskegon River watershed. Then twice a year, in the spring and fall, stream monitors wade right in and collect some bugs. Take your kids along. They’ll have a blast and can feel proud to do their part for clean water.

More information about the stream monitoring program

More information about other MRWA activities