Wonderful Water Scorpions

Howdy! I’ll be resuming regular posting next week, but the final guest post comes to you from Chris “Dragonfly Woman” Goforth. Having led plenty of stream and pond programs for kids, I know just enough about aquatic insects to know how much I DON’T know about them. Chris, on the other hand, is an expert. Check it out.

North Carolina is a great place to live if you love nature! I am an aquatic entomologist, so I particularly love the variety of aquatic habitats in the state. I work at a field station run by a natural history museum, so I am lucky: a 5 minute walk brings me to a beautiful clear stream or one of two ponds. It’s great!

My favorite aquatic insects are the water scorpions, and they are abundant in the pond near my office:

Water scorpions in the genus Rantra are long, skinny insects with a lot of great features. They’re called water scorpions due to the long tail that extends from the tip of the abdomen. That tail is a respiratory siphon and the water scorpions stick them up out of the water to breathe, using it like a snorkel. Water scorpions are predators and use their strong front legs, called raptorial forelegs, to grab small insects, fish, and tadpoles as they swim by:

Once they’ve captured something, the water scorpion injects chemicals into the prey with its pointy mouthpart to paralyze and dissolve its prey before sucking up the resulting juices through the same mouthpart like a straw. Water scorpions are important predators in the habitats in which they live and help maintain the balance of species in ponds and streams.
Water scorpions are only one of thousands of fascinating aquatic insects! I encourage you all to take a look in your local pond or stream to see what you can find. You won’t be disappointed!

Chris Goforth fell in love with aquatic insects and teaching when she taught her first aquatic entomology lab and tries to combine the two whenever possible.  Her research focuses on behaviors of the giant water bugs and dragonflies, but she enjoys working with any insect that lives in water.  She is a recent transplant to North Carolina and works at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences connecting the public with scientific research as the manager of citizen science. You can read more about aquatic insects at her blog, The Dragonfly Woman.

Young Two-Lined Salamander

Last week when I took my group of campers to look for critters in the stream, one girl turned out to be a salamander-finding machine – in addition to an adult long-tailed salamander, she found several of what appeared to be young two-lined salamanders, judging by their markings.

Admittedly this isn’t the world’s greatest photo, but if you look closely you can see that it still has gills on the sides of its neck.  Is there a term for this stage of a salamander’s life cycle?  I feel like it’s not an adult if it still has gills, but it’s not what I could call a larva either.  A juvenile, maybe?  In any case, this was at the exact same spot where I found what I guessed might be two-lined salamander eggs back in April, so I thought it was cool to come back now and find these.

Things You Find Under Rocks

This afternoon I tagged along with another naturalist who was teaching a lesson called stream study, which is exactly what it sounds like: students do some tests on the stream that runs through our property to assess how healthy it is.

The final (and most fun!) part is sampling for macroinvertebrates.  We flip over rocks on the stream bed and see what we find (specifically whether we find pollution-sensitive species).

Mayfly larvae can be identified by their three butt prongs.  I really need to learn the technical term for “butt prongs.”

There were also a lot of little freshwater clams.  It was so cool to put them in our containers and watch them open up.  How often do you actually get to see live clams wiggling around, doing their thing?  Not very often, if you’re me.

The coolest find was salamander eggs, which I photographed, showed to the kids, and then returned carefully to where they were.  I looove salamanders, so this pretty much made my day.  I’m far from an expert on salamander egg identification but my best guess would be two-lined.

Conclusion: our stream is pretty darn healthy.  Anyway, I have a job where I get paid to poke around under rocks and look at interesting things.  How awesome is that?