BioBlitz 2014: Healthy Bugs, Healthy Streams

Most people today don’t know where their water comes from, or where it goes when they empty the bathtub or flush the toilet. This is a big problem, especially with clean drinking water becoming scarce in many places.

Kids should learn that no matter where they live, they’re part of a watershed, a term referring to an area of land where all the water drains to the same place. Usually, watersheds are named for the nearest major stream or river. Do your kids know what watershed they live in? Do you? (Here’s a website where you can find out. Most states and counties have more detailed, local information on their websites, too.)

A watershed, and the plants and soil organisms that there, filters and purifies water. But if rainwater falls on parking lots and roads and gushes down into streams, there’s no time for it to get filtered. The water just carries all the oil, gas, pesticides and bacteria that accumulate on paved surfaces and lawns right down into the streams, polluting them. The rushing water also carries fine soil particles that clog streams and reduce habitat area for the organisms that live there.

In this latest BioBlitz 2014 video, Healthy Bugs, Healthy Streams, you’ll learn how EPA wildlife biologists look at insects living in streams to find out how healthy the stream is. While scientists studying waterways also test for pollutants, insects can be better indicators of stream health. Insects are in the water 24 hours a day, and they may be sensitive to chemicals that we don’t have other good tests for.

Learning about watersheds is a great way to foster inquiry with your kids. You might consider having them pretend that they are raindrops, falling near your school. Where do they go once they hit the ground? Downhill, of course. And where will that lead them? Will they filter slowly through miles of earth and forest before reaching a stream? Or will they rush along pavement and into culverts?

After learning about watersheds and rain run-off, your kids could think about ways to slow rainwater down. The roots of trees and other plants can help, and so can “rain gardens”—plant beds that slow down and filter rain run off. Collecting rainwater in rain barrels, and then slowly releasing that water later, when plants need it, is another way to slow run-off and help keep streams clean.

There may even be opportunities for you and your students to participate in a stream survey in your area.

Your kids could also study aquatic insects and other invertebrates, and the fascinating community they comprise. Many of them are the larvae of familiar insects, like dragonflies, mayflies and mosquitoes, and are important food sources for fish. You can even catch the larvae and observe them in fish tanks and bowls. (Note: if you catch mosquito larvae, make sure you either feed them to your fish or throw them out before they turn into mosquitoes!).

While most children will be familiar with caterpillars changing into butterflies, they may not realize that so many other insects undergo similar metamorphoses!

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