Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Reverse Hatch

Deer creek ran clear, a lot more clear than this time last year. I was here to see if shad have returned, but knew it was early. Still I hoped I would see some in this incredible clear water. As soon as I put my face in this very familiar spot, a very foreign stream scape appeared. For as many times as I’ve been here, this was new. Algae covered the rock moss carpet in pinks and orange pastels, and silver dots crawled down the lee face of a large rock in a rapid.

The silver dots were caddisflies and they glowed as they crawled down the face of a rock back into the rapid. I thought these might be recently metamorphosed adults, emerging, and tried to get some close up photos to document this phenomenon, but the water is this rapid was just too rough to keep the camera still. Caddis flies spend a year or two in creeks as aquatic larvae, then emerge from the water into the air as winged adults where they mate, lay eggs and die. I wasn’t sure what these flies were doing, coming or going. Adult caddis flitted just above the surface in clumsy flight. But as I watched these silver coated adults slowly creep back into this rapid I realized that the silver was from an envelope of air that surrounded the adult caddis flies body and these were probably mated females returning to the water to lay their eggs to ensure the next generation and die. Circle of life.

Caddis are always in creeks, and in just about every creek I snorkel. I am used to them and I though I knew their biology. But today changed all that. I never witnessed this incredible feat. I never expected it. I learned the caddis life cycle in ecology. I learned that the females lay eggs after they mate, but no one ever told what that looked like. No one ever told me what an amazing sight this was. Maybe the Professors who taught me didn’t know. Maybe they never witnessed the caddis return to water.

It’s a shame, because if more people knew about the miracles taking place in our creeks and rivers, maybe they would care more. But not just knowledge of the mechanics of the process, but rather what the process actually looks like, how it feels to be a part of it, a direct witness to ask questions like “Why are there silver caddisflies walking down this rock?” Maybe then people would care more for our most vital resource, water, and maybe then more people would feel alive by experiencing the excitement of discovery.

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