Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Above: The common genus Hydroptila. The cases are constructed of sand and silk, and have a characteristic, slightly angled "roof" on one seam.
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
The Chathamiidae (named after the Chatham Islands in New Zeland) are a small family of caddisflies, only 2 genera and five species. All Chathamiids inhabit tidepools in their larval stage, the only insect found thus far that has colonized these habitats. They can be found on the Southern coasts of Austrailia, the coasts of New Zealand, and the Chatham and Kermadec Islands.
For many reasons, aquatic insects have failed to colonize the oceans. It is more than just a matter of osmotic potential, the high salt content of sea water. It is also a matter of competitive exclusion. Ocean invertebrate niches are well filled, there are very few openings for invasion by insects. However, at least 5 species have found a place in this environment. (Note: There is also a genus of marine water striders that can be found quite far from land, but these are not considered fully aquatic in the sense that Chathamiids are.)
The life cycle of marine caddisflies is quite amazing in its own right. In the species Philanisus plebeius, larvae begin their lives as eggs oviposited within the body cavity of the Australian cushion star Patiriella exigua. After more than 30 days the larvae hatch and exit their hosts through the stomach and out the mouth. They then spend 7 larval instars feeding within the tide pools on red calciferous algae in full sunlight. There are several odd things about this. One, the normal number of larval instars, that is, the normal number of times that a Trichopteran larvae molts before pupation is 5. Two, these are the only caddisflies known to feed in tide pools on calcified algae, and three, they feed in full sunlight, while most caddisfly larvae are rather secretive and tend to feed in shaded regions.
Marine caddisflies construct portable cases of tough silk, tubes to which they attach various algal fragments, supposedly for camouflage. Larvae pupate on the red alga Corallina officianalis. Adults fly on the open coast through out the summer. The females have long pointed ovipositors that are able to penetrate the cushion stars that serve as hosts for the larvae.
Unfortunately, no one has supplied any photographs of marine caddisflies, larvae or adults, to the internet. If anyone finds a photograph of the larvae, especially their case, I would love to see it.
Riek EF. 1976. The marine caddisfly family Chathamiidae (Trichoptera). Australian Journal of Entomology, 15: 405-419. (PDF; with drawings and keys)
Ward J. 1994. The New Zealand marine caddisflies (Trichoptera). Weta, 17: 18-20. (PDF)
Winterbourn M, Anderson N. 1980. The life history of Philanisus plebeius Walker (Trichoptera: Chathamiidae), a caddisfly whose eggs were found in a starfish. Ecological Entomology, 5: 293-304.
Monday, September 22, 2008
The larvae of these creatures, however, are an entirely different story. All immature caddisflies are fully aquatic with few exceptions. These are underwater caterpillars thriving in freshwater of all kinds around the world. These are the underwater architects (as the great Trichoptera taxonomist GB Wiggins called them in his book of the same name), whom construct incredible wonders beneath the surface of the water all around us, cases of silk, of wood, leaves, stones, which they carry around with them. Others create masterful nets of silk with meshes so fine they put our human counterparts to shame. The range of ecologies within this order is immense, from dentritovores to herbivores, omnivores and even predators, and their diversity of habitats is just as great. All freshwater habitats, from glacial waterfalls to springs and seeps, to rivers, streams, lakes, temporary pools, all have become habitats for these marvels; they are found in all faunal regions except the antarctic. Caddisflies have even taken this one step further: they are the only insect that has (at least partially) found a niche in the marine environment.
So why should you be interested? For their amazing behavior of spinning silk into underwater masterpieces? For their range of habitats and ecologies? If nothing else, you should be interested for the impact they have on our lives as humans, as members of aquatic ecology, as a link in our fisheries food chain, as a canary in the well for the damage we have done to our waters, and finally, as a biomonitoring tool to help us correct our wrongs to the natural world.
I wish to discuss all this and more in great detail as time continues. When you are passionate about life, you feel the need to share that passion.
A note: I do understand that the correct term would be "Trichopterist". My usage of Trichopterologist is a pun against myself, in the same way I might call myself a "scientician". A person needs the ability to laugh at them self when they are pursuing something they are truly passionate about, or otherwise they become too serious, and they loose that passion. A good nature of fun along with discipline and dedication is important for any person in this world.
Sunday, September 21, 2008
During my middle school and high school years I forgot about this passion. I had other worries, other interests. During my undergraduate education, I fell back into love with biology, entomology, and found a new love in aquatic insects. I was already halfway to completing my degree in aquatic biology when I realized how much I loved those bugs! Thankfully it was not too late for me. After a summer working under an aquatic entomologist, I knew I had found my lifelong passion in caddisflies. I am now a graduate student researching what I love. Caddisflies have become my obsession, and along with biology, evolution, freshwater ecology, invertebratology, entomology and other random science nerdery, this will be the focus of my blog. Its outreach on my part, to show the world what I love and why I love it. Its also an attempt to journal my research and my progress as a student of biology.
Next time: An introduction to Trichopterology.