Tiny Jewels of Nature

     Last week my friend Kathy and I spent a happy, sunny day hiking in a Virginia state park known for its long meadow vistas and forest trails.  As we walked, we delighted in a profusion of blooming bloodroot and scores of towering tulip poplars, tipped with last year’s dried ‘tulips.’

      But for me the greatest thrill was my introduction to caddisfly cases.  Now, I love nature deeply, but I am not particularly knowledgeable in the natural sciences.  Kathy, however, is full of fascinating information about many of the plants and animals we meet on our hikes. 

     Kathy suggested we stop at a little stream that crossed the trail and see what we could see.  We knelt, lifted out a large rock, and turned it over.  Clinging to the underside was a tiny caddisfly larva case.  But only by looking through the magnifying glasses we had brought could we really see the tiny wonder in front of us.  The case attached to the rock was astonishingly colorful.  It was made of the tiniest pebbles of red, white, black, and brown, all firmly held into a tiny cigar shape by silk the caddisfly larva had spun around itself and the bits of rock. 

     Cleverly, the caddisfly larva protects itself during the fall, winter, and spring it spends in the water by creating its own hard case.  And as the larva grows during these months, it enlarges its case with more debris and silk.   When it is time to pupate, the caddisfly attaches both ends of its case to an object in the water, such as a rock.  Thus, the pupating animal is protected against predators, and water can still flow through the case.  When the mature caddisfly is ready to emerge, it uses its special pair of mandibles to cut its way out of the case.

     Adult caddisflies seem to live to mate.  They do not eat at all.  After a week or two, or maybe longer, they die.  The entire lifespan of a caddisfly is complete in a single year.

     Seeing a caddisfly case was not only a visual treat, but a good sign as well.  Caddisflies, along with mayflies and stoneflies, are signs of at least a fairly good quality of water.–April Moore   

 

a caddisfly case, less colorful than the one I saw

a caddisfly case, less colorful than the one I saw

 

  

an adult caddisfly

an adult caddisfly

2 Responses to “Tiny Jewels of Nature”

  1. Kathy Ferger Says:

    Nice posting, April!

  2. tim Says:

    cool – looks like a real rock hound -and a spirited nymph of the woods

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