The Stream Doctor

December 16th, 2002

Your questions and answers about everything stream related.

Q. My name is Walt Bliss, and I teach Biology at Laconia High School, in Laconia, New Hampshire. Every year for the past 12, we have performed an ecological field study at a local brook near the school. I am looking for what you may consider to be the "best" resources, written or on video/film, for identifying freshwater macro invertebrates and protists available today. Also, I am looking for a good stream ecology video to present to my students as an introduction to the project. Carolina Biological had a filmstrip on Stream Ecology out about 10 years ago (which I hate to say, I still use)... the information is very good, but of course in today's world of DVD's, the format isn't very appealing to the students. Any suggestions would be very much appreciated. Thank you.

A. First, thanks for the clarification you sent in response to my email. Your question has opened up quite a range of possibilities, so I hope what I'm sending you isn't over-kill. However, I'd rather send too much than too little and let you pick and choose. Here goes.

Identification resources

First of all, you must remember that publications relating to identification of macro invertebrates and "protists" (or any other organisms) range from the extremely detailed monographs that exhaustively explain the minutest information about a restricted group of animals (maybe just one species or genus) to publications that cover a wide range of organisms in less detail. The former require considerable expertise and equipment (a lifetime of dedication!) and I don't think that's what you are looking for; suffice it to advise you that they exist. I think you're probably more interested in something that gives good coverage to a broader range of organisms and this is what I'll emphasize.

An Introduction to the Aquatic Insects of North America, 3rd edition
edited by R.W. Merritt and K.W. Cummins
Kendall/Hunt Publ. Co.
ISBN 0-7872-1761-1

This book is the most widely used among researchers identifying insects; each chapter is written by an expert for a particular group, and the book contains a wealth of ecological information, collecting techniques, etc. Remember, it is for insects only.

Aquatic Entomology
by W. P. McCafferty
Jones and Bartlett Publ.
ISBN 0-86720-017-0

This book is written more for the angler and presents the identification keys in pictorial fashion rather than straight text, as does the above volume. However, it is not as up-to-date as Merritt and Cummins, but does have beautiful color paintings (not photos) of many species of insects.

Freshwater Macroinvertebrates of Northeastern North America
by B.L. Peckarsky, P.R. Fraissinet, M.A. Penton, and D.J. Conklin, Jr.
Comstock/Cornell Univ. Press
ISBN 0-8014-9688-8

This is a regional book that encompasses your area of concern. I'll admit that I haven't personally used this book because there are more applicable ones for the west where I work.

Ecology and Classification of North American Freshwater Invertebrates
edited by J.H. Thorp and A.P. Covich
Academic Press
ISBN 0-12-690645-9

There is a 2nd edition of this book out, but I don't have a copy. This book will help you with all invertebrates, but only covers the insects and Collembola collectively in a single chapter. For all other inverts and "protists," it should do the job.

General non-professional texts on stream ecology

I had to include this category, not only because you might like to know of these books but because it gives me a chance to "toot my horn" a bit. Anyway, you might find these useful in that they are stream ecology books written for the layman and interested naturalist, not the professional stream ecologist. If you want the latter, let me know.

Streams: Their Ecology and Life
by C.E. Cushing and J.D. Allan
Academic Press
ISBN 0-12-050340-9

Dave and I wrote this book for the non-professional but seriously interested layman. It has a lot of colored photos of streams, insects, mollusks, fish, and other organisms. However, it does not have identification keys but only has chapters describing the different organisms found in streams - from algae to mammals.

by T.F. Waters
Riparian Press
ISBN 0-9637616-1-7

Tom wrote this book for essentially the same reason that Dave and I wrote ours; the funny thing is that we didn't know the other was doing it until they were almost done!

The Biology of Streams and Rivers
by P.S. Geller and B. Malmqvist
Oxford Univ. Press
ISBN 0198549776

I don't have a copy of this, but the author told me that it was similar in approach to our book. The authors are from Europe, and I don't know if they emphasize those streams or not in the book.

A Guide to the Study of Fresh-Water Biology
by J.G. Needham and P.R. Needham
Holden-Day, Inc.

This slim little paperback was first copyrighted in 1938 and last in 1962; I got a copy when I took my first limnology class in 1951. I don't know if it is still available, but it makes a nice little guide. There are brief keys to everything from "protists" to fish plus chapters on collecting, etc. - all in about 100 pp.

Video material

Your request for a video showing the principles of stream ecology brings up a sore spot with me. I've wanted to produce such a video patterned after the slide-presentation I use to teach and lecture on the subject. I found a local video producer and he was enthusiastic about the project. We planned the entire production, picked out the filming sites, but when it came time to shoot, he took off to film the ANWR area in Alaska, and never got back to the project. I'm convinced that there is a market out there for such a video, and your comments support that.

I'll list below some related visual material so you'll know what is available.

How to Use a Dichotomous Key to Identify Aquatic Insects
by R.W. Merritt

I learned about this video just last night from Vince Resh (see below). I called Rich; he said that Kendall/Hunt Publ. has produced the video and that it is available by calling 1-800-338-8290. Price $50.

A couple of comments: First, I don't know if the video just shows you how to use a key, as the title would seem to imply. Certainly, it couldn't take you through the identification of very many different bugs. My guess is that it probably presents the basics of identifying a few typical aquatic insects, including morphology and how to use a key. Rich is sending me a copy of the tape to use in my classes. As soon as I have a chance to look at it, I'll email you further information on just what is on the video.

The Living Stream
by C.E. Cushing

This is an 80-slide presentation with accompanying printed text that the North American Benthological Society sells for $145. I developed this presentation many years ago and have used it for teaching, lecturing to fishing clubs, etc. The Society asked if they could distribute it and I agreed. They are now making it available in a CD-ROM format that should be available any day. You can purchase a copy by contacting Dr. Leonard Smock, Dept. of Biology, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA 23284. Incidentally, they also have slide sets on riparian environments and an extensive slide collection of algae and macro invertebrates that are available for purchase; we used a lot of them in our book.

Sampling Aquatic Insects
by V.H. Resh

This video was made by a friend of mine who sent me a copy. It shows a number of methods and equipment used for collection aquatic insects under different conditions. It is available for $15 from Dr. Vincent Resh, Dept. of Entomology, Univ. of California/Berkeley, Berkeley, CA 94720. Given your comment about the suitability of format for today's kids, these videos probably won't cut it with your students - not a single car chase or explosion in either of them!

Be sure to let me know if I can help further on this. ~ C. E. (Bert) Cushing, aka Streamdoctor
105 W. Cherokee Dr.
Estes Park, CO 80517
Phone: 970-577-1584

The 'Stream Doctor' is a retired professional stream ecologist and author, now living in the West and spending way too much time fly-fishing. You are invited to submit questions relating to anything stream related directly to him for use in this Q & A Feature at

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