Setting Up The Quarry Farm at Toledo Botanical Garden

Photographing a nymph

Photographing a nymph

One of the programs offered through The Quarry Farm is something we call Small Streams. The program gives us the opportunity to talk about aquatic insects and other macroinvertebrates and their importance to all living things, water quality and what each of us can do to help keep Ohio’s waterways healthy. Small Streams can be as complex as setting up a freshwater stream

First look at a crayfish

First look at a crayfish

microhabitat in a classroom, or as simple as a plastic bucket half-filled with water and teeming with clams, snails, crayfish and the larva of dragonflies, damselflies, mayflies and a host of other insects with larval forms that start their life cycle in the water. This past Saturday, June 15th, we had the opportunity to take our show on the road to Toledo Botanical Garden as part of Nature’s Nursery’s Walk for Wildlife.

coupleTo be honest, this is the kind of presentation we like best. While a classroom setting provides the chance to really get in depth about some very important issues, it frequently lacks spontaneity. That’s never a problem when we set up in public and have people from all walks of life wander up and ask us what we’re doing there. And while we love the kids, the adults who have never seen a dragonfly nymph, never held a hellgrammite…well, they’re our favorites. Most people never completely lose their childhood curiosity and when it’s piqued, the child they were comes instantly to the fore. We were lucky enough to witness several such transformations as parents found themselves just as fascinated as their children.

nymphThe only down-side to an event such as Saturday’s is the inevitable loss of at least one of the insects in our charge. Typically, when we’re standing at a folding table with a couple of buckets, there is no electricity available. No electricity means no bubble stone. No bubble stone means that the only oxygenation the water these insects are trapped in is what’s provided when we stir the bucket. So, as is typical at one of these events, we lost two of the dragonfly nymphs we took along. But, since our primary goal is education, we took that calamity and turned it into a teaching opportunity.

See, there’s this thing about dragonfly nymphs…Have you ever seen any of the Alien movies? The monster in these films has a unique feature. It has this mouth within its mouth that shoots out and chomps the unsuspecting. Well, that’s not entirely true; it chomps the suspecting, as well. While not exactly like that, dragonfly nymphs have a similar set up. Their lower jaw are hinged and fold up under their heads.

Lower mandible of dragonfly nymph, extended

Lower mandible of dragonfly nymph, extended

When something tasty wanders by, the nymph is able to extend its jaw well out and away from its body, snatch up its soon-to-be dinner and pull it back in. Getting a live nymph to cooperate, to actually extend its lower mandible out to its fullest, is pretty much impossible. The dead, however, know no fear. So, with a couple of dozen people looking on, we were able to pull that jaw out and show people just exactly what we were talking about. That’s when the Alien and Predator conversations started, culminating in the question, presented by a man of roughly my own generation, “I know this sounds strange, but how do Predators kiss?” (For those of you with more highbrow tastes, who are confused by the nature of the question, try this:

Chris and the crayfish

Chris and the crayfish

Nature's Nursery's  Linda and Icarus

Nature’s Nursery’s
Linda and Icarus

We’d like to extend a special thanks to Chris,a Natural Resources student in the Toledo Public Schools system, for all of his help. We’d also like to thank Nature’s Nursery for inviting us to participate in the event.

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