Water Critters

Posted on in Todd Talks by Mak Gleckner

I grew up around water. Although I do not remember it, my dad tells me of times when he carried me in a backpack when I was a baby while he was fly fishing for trout. They say the apple does not fall far from the tree, which in this case is accurate. Over the years, I have developed a passion for all things outdoors, especially those that are water related. I can distinctly remember catching my first frog from a mud puddle with some girl’s butterfly net, and after that I always tried to catch as many reptiles, amphibians, and fish as I could. This is a passion that has never faded but certainly has evolved into a more mature inquisitiveness.

Over the last few years, I have invested a lot of my time in learning as much as I can about fish and aquatic organisms in general. I am fascinated with the role that every critter plays in the ecology of a body of water. There are certain indicator species of aquatic organisms whose presence in a body of water indicates water quality. For example, if a body of water contains blackfly larvae, leeches, and other aquatic worms, the water may not be the best quality. However, if there are stoneflies, mayflies, and caddisflies present, the water is most likely very clean. This is because the former are very pollution tolerant, while the latter are pollution intolerant.

The Eastern Hellbender is North America’s largest salamander, reaching lengths of almost 30 inches. These creatures are huge indicators of water quality, as they can survive only in cool, clean streams that have a suitable habitat. They need large, flat rocks to hide under as well. Most people will never see an Eastern Hellbender in their lifetimes because most streams are not clean enough, or they lack a suitable habitat. I have only seen two in my lifetime — one adult and one juvenile.

In 2019, Pennsylvania named the Hellbender as our state amphibian to raise awareness about the species and to protect our watersheds. Protecting our clean water is arguably one of the most important things we can do. And that is not just for the benefit of species such as the Hellbender. Protecting these species will, in turn, help us by ensuring that we will always have access to clean water.