Searching for Stoneflies

January 23, 2016

Stoneflies?  What the heck is a stonefly?  I have pretty much no idea, I just know that the Huron River Watershed Council cares about them and needs help each year finding them, and so off to the creeks of Michigan in January I went with a great group of volunteers.

Learn more about the HRWC and stoneflies here:

Answering Questions with Bugs: The Stonefly Search

Can Stoneflies Warn us of a Changing Climate?

The weather was kind today.  As with most of this winter, it was on the warm side, just about freezing, and the sun was out – a rarity in winter here.  We could not ask for better for the search.

The day began at the Watershed Council office, on Main Street in Ann Arbor, where about 40 volunteers staffing the late shift of the search met to meet our groups.  We got our usual fabulous introduction to the day by Jason Frenzel, HRWC’s Volunteer & Stewardship Coordinator and a lesson in the why’s and how’s of the search from Dr. Bug, Paul Steen, HRWC’s Watershed Ecologist. I was part of a great six person team:  I was the leader, we had a very experienced collector (the person who goes in the creeks), and we had a very fantastic family of 4 as our pickers.  The pickers are the ones who get to have the fun of looking through trays of leaf litter and other scoopings from the river, in hopes of finding stoneflies moving about.

Introductions complete, we claimed our equipment and buckets to sit on, and headed out to the search.  As usual, we had two sites, one that we would expect to find plenty of stoneflies, and the other where they are rare.  Our first stop was one of abundance, Fleming Creek near Galpin Road.  Here we found a flowing creek from which we pulled many a stonefly.

While our pickers were doing their thing, our collector found some very cool ice formations hanging above the creek.  A bit of unexpected beauty of which she was kind enough to take photos.

From there, we wound our way through town to Malletts Creek, a creek that is much closer to the core of the city and all of the heavier land uses that come with it.  We were assigned a truly beautiful site behind a great house in a very tranquil setting.  Across the creek from where we worked was the Huron Parkway Nature Area, which added to the serenity of the place.  Malletts Creek was iced over except in a few spots, so collecting was challenging.  The ice was quite peaceful and I did find myself tempted to go for a hike on the creeks of Ann Arbor.  We were delighted to find stoneflies at this site where none were expected.

Our second site complete, our work was done, and we made the trek back to HRWC to turn in our bugs and equipment, fill out surveys, and enjoy a few snacks.  There, we also learned that what we thought were stoneflies at Malletts Creek were instead caddisflies – sadly not even one stonefly.  I stuck around afterwards to help take all of the equipment back to the storage shed, and called it a day.

I hope you have clicked on the links above, and learned a bit more about why stoneflies are important.  Either way, I encourage you to discover your local watershed through such volunteer efforts, as the help is much needed and it is a great way to experience your local rivers and creeks.




  • Fantastic commentary on the HRWC Stonefly Search, Tony. I have served as a “collector” for many years, but couldn’t attend this last one. Glad you enjoyed the activity. Fred Hanert

  • Tony, thanks for such a great writeup. I love seeing the sun hit the snow and water. Those icy pictures are pretty intriguing also.

  • Love it! I’m a traveler of Michigan, but have never been this far north. My daughter and I plan on taking a trip all the way around Lake Michigan at some point.

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