By Elyce Gosselin, Natural Resources Technician
Carlin Girard, our Water Resource Specialist, and I spent a morning last week looking for aquatic bugs in Flat Creek with Mikenna Smith, a Lab and Program Manager for Teton County Weed & Pest District (TCWP). Mikenna focuses on studying and managing mosquito populations in the area. TCWP is known for controlling invasive species, like cheat grass, that push out native plants that wildlife depend on, and pests, like mosquitoes, that can be dangerous to human health. While controlling harmful species is an important part of TCWP’s mission, it’s not the only part of their job. Mikenna and other staff are also dedicated to maintaining a healthy ecosystem in other ways.
Last week, we were helping Mikenna collect a library of bugs. We collected macroinvertebrate samples (i.e., insect larva and other small aquatic organisms like snails and leeches) so Mikenna can build a reference library for TCWP. Reference libraries are collections of individual organisms that show what species or groups of organisms have been found in an area. Mikenna hopes that this will be a good educational tool for TCWP because it will show people how rich the aquatic environments here are. Aquatic macroinvertebrates are also great indicators of stream health. If water quality is good enough for a diverse number of sensitive invertebrate species to survive, it is likely that other important species, like fish, birds and humans, will be able to use that water too.
Flat Creek is listed by the Wyoming Department of Environmental quality as an impaired stream. This means that humans are having a significant negative impact on the stream in some way. In Flat Creek, a couple of the main problems are habitat degradation and stormwater runoff. Despite being an impaired stream, we collected a lot of interesting bugs! Carlin estimated that we collected over 1,000 bugs in the short time we spent sampling, including mayfly, stonefly, and caddisfly larva. These groups are important indicators of stream health, and you’ve probably heard of them if you fly fish too.
Although there are still large piles of snow around Jackson, it was clear from the birds and bugs in and around the creek that spring has arrived. A few adult midges and stoneflies had already emerged and were basking on the snow. We also saw an American Dipper—an aquatic songbird that feeds on aquatic macroinvertebrates—another great indicator of water quality!