Monday, September 22, 2008

An Introduction to Trichopterology

Trichopterology is the study of caddisflies, an amazing order of insects with which I am truly enamored. The scientific name for these insects comes from the Greek Trichos for hair and Pteros for wing. Caddisflies as adults are terrestrial, hairy winged organisms which are very moth-like in appearance. Their manners are relatively secretive, flying at night, and can often be found in large numbers around outdoor lights. They do not feed as adults, unlike their close relatives the butterflies, they have only vestigial mouthparts. From the above description, some may say these creatures are wholly uninteresting, of no use economically, not an agricultural pest nor a vector of diseases, nothing more than bat food.

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.

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