Al Campbell, Field Editor

May 19th, 2003

Caddis on the run
By Al Campbell

I went looking for caddisflies this week, but couldn't find any. Every year for the last 10 years, I have been able to observe caddisflies by the second week in May on the creek that runs through town near my house, but not this year. Where did they go?

Last summer we had a severe drought and many streams dried up completely. That has to be hard on the uatic insect reproductive rate. Maybe that's the reason I'm not seeing any caddisflies? But wait, this particular stream had water running through it all year and wasn't one of the streams that dried up. That can't be the answer.

Maybe pollution is the culprit. If you listen to several of the more radical factions of the environmental movement, every stream in this state is at serious risk of an immediate death due to pollution. Maybe we polluted them to death? Well, other insects and fish are doing fine in the stream, so that isn't the case.

It has been unseasonably cool and wetter than normal in the last month. Maybe the cold weather has had a slowing effect on the hatch. Aquatic insects need a specific combination of time in the water, sun angle and thermal days to reach the stage where they are developed enough to pupate and emerge as adults. Maybe it has just been too cold this year for the insects to be on schedule. That's a possibility, but similar weather patterns have been in place here in the last ten years, and they didn't slow the hatch this way.

Maybe there is an exotic disease that killed off only the caddisflies? Other insects like midges and baetis mayflies are hatching, so the disease has to be specific to caddisflies if this theory is to work. How would anyone know for sure? Do we need a special team of biologists to study this? How could any layman know for sure?

Maybe the caddisflies are protesting the idea that midges, some mayflies and some stoneflies always get to hatch earlier in the season than they do. Every year it's the same old thing. The other insects hatch earlier and steal the limelight, so maybe caddisflies have had enough and just wanted to show the rest of the world that they deserve some respect too. I can imagine thousands of cased caddis larvae holding tiny protest signs saying they won't hatch until they get the respect they deserve. Of course, I can imagine a lot of things, and some are a little more realistic than others.

How would you go about finding the answer? Is there a Dr. Phil of caddisflies that we could ask? Could we coerce a few mayflies to rat on their caddisfly neighbors? You don't suppose we could get a straight answer from the midges or maybe the stoneflies, do you? There has to be a way to determine what is going on in the caddisfly world. What would you do to get an answer?

I decided to look for myself. There on the stream bottom I found some rocks and turned them over to see if anything was hiding under them. Sure enough, there under the rocks were hundreds of tiny organic homes, each one holding a caddisfly larva. The caddisflies are there, but they haven't found the ideal environment to hatch from. No protests, no pollutants, just a bit too cold to hatch just yet.

I'm guessing a week from now we'll see a bunch of adult caddisflies. Whew, I didn't tie all those elk hair caddis patterns in vain. ~ AC

Previous Al Campell Columns

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