Have you ever wondered what lives in our local streams? From the car window or streamside trail you see a clean, clear stream, but it is teeming with all different types of life, most of which you will seldom see. To describe all of the life in local streams from microscopic diatoms through insects, fish and animals, would fill most of this paper. For now we will take a look at four.Everyone knows that there is a variety of fish in our streams, but few realize that our streams are home to the American eel. These are very difficult to see and also difficult to catch. Often the only way to discover eels is when aquatic biologists electroshock the stream.
The American eel is different from many other fish. It lives in fresh water but returns to the Caribbean to spawn. Fish of this type are known as catadromous. This is distinguished from fish that live in salt water but come to fresh water to spawn. Those are known as anadromous fish and include Atlantic Salmon and American Shad. While the shad are unable to make it up local streams because of dams, eels have been able to maneuver over dams to reach their desired habitat. They will later make the less strenuous trip downstream and return to the Caribbean for breeding. Eels are not frequently caught for food, although in some parts of the world they are a delicacy.
As kids playing along the stream many of us have discovered crayfish. These are fresh water crustaceans and look like miniature lobsters. Most of the local crayfish are two to three inches long, although other varieties can grow much larger. Crayfish enjoy streams that are relatively free from pollution, but also streams that provide shelter from predators. Fish and mammals such as raccoons will eat crayfish. The crayfish typically burrow under stones and in the mud to prevent discovery. Some people will have crayfish for pets in their aquariums and it is often a topic of interest in biology classes.
Looking at streams and ponds will often reveal a number of different turtles.
Snapping turtles are frequent inhabitants of our streams but are rarely seen. Unless a snapping turtle is migrating on land it is hard to find these living fossils. Snapping turtles can grow to great size, sometimes over 20 inches and weighing more than 35 pounds. Snapping turtles will eat most anything. Their diet can be plants as well as fish and birds. Ducks and geese are often wary of snapping turtles when their ducklings and goslings are learning to swim.
Snapping turtles will rarely be water but are frequently there. These turtles are caught for their meat that is considered a delicacy, especially when prepared as snapper soup. Snapping turtles should not be feared in water as they rarely are aggressive to people. On land, however, it is quite a different story and only those experienced with handling snapping turtles should even approach them.
When most people think of a healthy stream they consider it being suitable for trout. The Red Clay Creek is not a year-round trout stream and likely never will be. A combination of development within the watershed and higher water temperatures in the summer are not conducive to a year round trout population. Nevertheless, for many years the Red Clay Creek and other streams in the area have been stocked with trout. For the past five years Red Clay Valley Association has stocked brown trout in the Red Clay Creek.
These stocked trout do fine and some may be fished out by anglers. There have been claims of trout wintering over, but these are rare and need to be verified more frequently. The fact that the Red Clay is stocked indicates improved water quality which is true of many streams in the area. Trout need a pollution-free stream with cooler temperatures, higher oxygen levels, and deep pools where the water stays cool.
These four inhabitants of local streams are among thousands that could have been noted. With a better understanding of what lives in our streams, we can continue to do a better job of taking care of our creeks and rivers.
o Robert G. Struble Jr. is executive director of the Brandywine and Red Clay valley associations, the oldest and second oldest watershed organizations in the country. He lives in East Bradford Township.