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Slough? or Slew of Organisms?

Updated: Nov 9, 2022

In a typical non-pandemic year, the Aquatic Biosphere will engage with 70,000 people. Seventy thousand. While this brings up many opportunities to discuss the project – exciting in its own right – the part I love talking about most are the bugs. Aquatic insects! The creatures we see in our ponds, swimming pools, and often flying around porchlights at night.

In any normal year we would proudly present these at various community events across the metro region -to a cacophony of soft oohs and ahs! Have you ever observed the needle-like mandibles of a water tiger? What about the jaw-dropping pincers of the Giant Water Bug? What about the subjectively goofy ballet of the Scud Or the elegance of the Water Strider?

But this year is different. This year, we took an alternative approach, with a simple view. Imagine being a ten-year-old again, peering over the dock at your favorite lake - and wondering what is down there? We wondered this too, so we brought it up, filmed it, and carefully put it back in its habitat. With this footage, we built - or are in the process of building - three wonderful series to discuss the unique traits of aquatic insects on the prairies.

What did we discover? Snails are an ecosystem all on their own. We observed shells coated in green plants, like a miniature stalky forest. A damselfly larva, not more than 3mm long, riding a snail like a mounted bull at some whimsical underwater rodeo. And parasites, by the thousands, that our spineless shelled friends expel from their digestive tracks in wriggling clouds. A world on its own, the lowly freshwater snail? Who knew!

We also discovered just how active a freshwater lake or pond can be. In calm or slow-moving waters you will find shores full of reed mats that slowly change the ecosystem and fill in the water source, but create an entirely new habitat as it slowly marches on. Cat tails, sedges, lilies’ provide productive homes for dozens of species. A typical Alberta Lake may look like a ‘stinky slough’ to some. But under a magnifying glass you can say it is as interesting as a coral reef or a rainforest.

There is life all through the water column. In that life, there is life. Around that life, there is more life. The typical Alberta Lake took on a new perspective this summer. Nowhere in this province will you observe a more active - and alien - ecosystem.

By Lee J. Burton, Director & Producer, Aquatic Biosphere Project.

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