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Just Beneath the Surface


The beach at Umbagog State Park Campground.

Renee Doran – SCA NH Corps – Discover the Power of Parks Interpretive Ranger

Spending time lake or pond side and enjoying a day at the beach seems synonymous with summertime in New England. We love to go for a dip or a swim in the cool waters on our sunny summer days. However, our waterways hold more treasures than just a nice place to spend a summer day. There is an entire world living just beneath the surface.

As the interpretive ranger at Bear Brook State Park, I have been exploring the ponds here since June. I wanted to introduce you to some of the exciting critters I have found in my explorations.

A whirligig beetle found at Catamount Pond.

First, the Whirligig beetle, a fun and descriptive name for the small black beetles that are most often found on the surface of the water swimming in whirling circles and occasionally diving below. They are a favorite find in my pond programs as their quick motions and whirling motions make them fun to catch and watch.

A Backswimmer found at Catamount Pond.

Another surface swimming beetle, the backswimmer is a common site at Catamount Pond. Backswimmers a beetles that are typically found on the surface of the water where they swim on their backs. Their long legs that they use to swim can be seen as the zip around the surface.

The larval stage of a Damselfly found at Catamount pond.

Next up, Damselflies- who I consider the mermaids of the aquatic insect world because of how they swim using their tails. They are related to dragonflies and the adults can be found flying around our water ways. They begin their lives completely underwater in the larval stage called nymphs. The damselfly nymphs are slender with round heads and three pairs of legs. They have three broad feather-like tails that act as gills allowing them to breathe underwater.

A dragonfly nymph found at Beaver Pond.

One of my favorite things to find are dragonflies. They are similar to the damselflies and also have an aquatic larval stage called a nymph. Dragonfly nymphs are wider and larger than damselflies and lack the tails of their cousins. They are the top predators of the small aquatic insect world and have jaws that can unhinge so they can hide and ambush their prey.

A larval Mayfly found at Catamount Pond.

Mayflies are one of the insects I find most frequently while exploring ponds. They look similar to the damselfly, also having three tails; however, their tails are thin and they have gills on the side of their body. The coolest experience I have had in my parks season so far was a Mayfly shedding its larval stage into its adult stage.

An adult Mayfly and the shed of its juvenile stage.

Mayflies, damselflies, and dragonflies have an aquatic larval stage that develops into the flying adult stages we are most used to. They can live in their aquatic phases from two months to six years and in that time will shed their skin as the grow larger 8 to 15 times. The final shed is when the develop their wings and take to the sky.

A Caddisfly found at Beaver Pond.

I’m always excited to find caddisflies in the pond. These aquatic insects build cocoon-like structures around their bodies out of small pieces of sand or twigs found in the ponds, lakes, and streams they live in. They can then poke their heads out of their casings to find food. I like finding both caddisflies and mayflies because both insects can’t live in areas with high pollution. So, finding these guys means the ponds are healthy and doing well.

A juvenile salamander with gills around its head found at Catamont Pond.

So far I’ve told you about the aquatic and larval insects we find just beneath the surface, but sometimes we find larger organisms too. I occasionally find tadpoles, young salamanders, and baby catfish.

A baby catfish found at Beaver Pond.

This is just a small number of the many exciting organisms that can be found living in our lakes and ponds at the waters edge. If you are interested in learning more about them or if you want to try to find some of your own check out the Discover the Power of Parks Programs at Bear Brook, Pawtuckaway, and Greenfield State Parks! #discoverthepowerofparks #BearBrookStatePark #PawtuckawayStatePark #GreenfieldStatePark

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