I found an excellent little article in the e-zine I get from the Great Smoky Mountain Institute at Tremont. On our last trip to the Smokies back in the Spring, I DID pick up some rocks and look closely at what was underneath. There were interesting looking organisms I’d never seen before. This article addresses that. The little “experiment” also made me want to bring some snorkling goggles on my next trip. I can only imagine what I could see as I picked up the rocks and watched what swam away under the water. I wanted to post a link to the e-zine, but I couldn’t find it on their website, so I copied it here below…
What Lies Beneath
by Jarrett Beecher, Environmental Education Summer Intern
The river is much more than it appears. It is much more than its surface. What lies beneath is an interconnected community of living and non-living organisms. Campers have discovered this unknown community throughout the summer picking up and flipping over rocks in the Middle Prong of the Little River. To their disbelief and excitement, there are millions of tiny, creepy alien-like critters called Freshwater Macroinvertebrates clinging and crawling about.
These aquatic creatures lack backbones and are large enough to be seen with the naked eye. They come in many different forms such as insects, crustaceans and mollusks. Some common types of macro invertebrates found in the park’s streams are fly larvae such as Mayflies, Stoneflies and Caddisflies. Through the process of metamorphosis, larvae that are adapted to aquatic conditions transform into adult flies with wings that they use to exit the water and fly away in order to mate.
These larvae and other macroinvertebrates play an integral role in the river shed ecosystems of the Smokies. Like the plankton of the oceans, they serve as a major food source for fish, amphibians and birds residing in and around the rivers. Besides an entrée, they are involved in the breakdown and cycling of organic matter. Think of them as the earthworms of the river. They are responsible for decomposing all of the leaves that fall into the river during autumn here in the Smokies. Last, certain types of macroinvertebrates such as Mayflies and Stoneflies larvae that are very sensitive to stress caused by pollution can be used to assess the health of a freshwater environment.
I hope I’ve encouraged you to go out, get wet and flip some rocks. You’ll be surprised by what you find or maybe surprised by what you don’t find. Leave no rock left unturned!
Image: Ecdyonuridae, from Wikimedia commons
Here’s a link to Tremont’s website… http://www.gsmit.org/