Searching for macroinvertebrates to identify with the Creek Critters app. Connecticut Audubon photo by Eleanor Robinson
May 19, 2016 – The Connecticut Audubon Society has launched a new mobile app designed to help Connecticut residents – especially youngsters – evaluate the health of their local streams by finding and identifying the creatures that live in them.
Called Creek Critters, the new app had its first field test on Saturday, May 14, when three dozen kids and adults gathered at the Old Saybrook Town Park to inaugurate it.
The new free app makes it fun and easy to collect and identify the macroinvertebrates (basically, large bugs) that help indicate whether a stream is in good shape or is impaired by pollution. Users get a quick analysis of overall stream quality based on their findings. Because different species are adapted to living in waters with different levels of pollution, their presence or absence gives a quick snapshot of how well the stream is doing.
The data can be shared with conservation organizations or local officials and planners working to improve habitat quality and limit the environmental impacts of development in the region.
Connecticut Audubon’s education director, Michelle Eckman, worked on Saturday’s field trip with the Old Saybrook Land Trust and Outdoor Adventure Kids of Old Saybrook, headed by Laurel Friedmann. Eleanor Robinson, an environmental educator and member of Connecticut Audubon’s Roger Tory Peterson Estuary Center board, was instrumental in planning and organizing the field trip.
“The Connecticut Audubon Society has always stressed the importance of getting young people involved with the natural world, for its own sake and to help establish the next generation of conservationists,” said Robinson, who is a member of Connecticut Audubon’s Board of Directors. “Mobile phones are a part of almost every child’s life these days, so Creek Critters is a great way to make the most of that reality.”
Creek Critters was developed by the Audubon Naturalist Society, in Washington D.C., in collaboration with the Connecticut Audubon Society, Audubon of Rhode Island, Massachusetts Audubon and New Hampshire Audubon. Gregg Trilling of the Audubon Naturalist Society participated in Saturday’s event, helping to collect and identify some of the bugs the kids collected.
Saturday’s participants waded into five streams in three watersheds, collecting macroinvertebrates by gently rubbing rocks and silt found in the stream bed. Using magnifying lenses and charts in the Creek Critter app, they identified stonefly larva, aquatic worms, midgefly larva and other species.
“Stonefly and mayfly larva have very low pollution tolerance, so their presence indicates good water quality,” Michelle Eckman said. “Other species found are more tolerant of pollution: midgefly larva, scuds, dragonfly larva, and mosquito larva. This does not mean that these species require pollution to survive, it just means they are more tolerant of it.”
The kids used the app to submit reports, starting a database for stream testing in Connecticut. Several of the participating families offered to “adopt” a stream and test it throughout the year to learn how changes in the seasons and bio-indicators influence water quality.
Creek Critters can be downloaded from the Apple App store or via Google Play.