The Enigmatic Asian Clam

Photo by L. Brian Stauffer Illinois News Bureau

UBAP Malacologists Sarah Douglass and Jeremy Tiemann wrote an article for the Fall 2018 issue of Illinois Audubon: “The Enigmatic Asian Clam.” Asian Clams are an invasive species that became established in the Midwest in the 1960s. Douglass and Tiemann identified an unknown species of Asian Clam found in the Illinois River in 2015 and have been studying its distribution. They plan to examine the effect of Asian Clams on the growth of native mussels in Illinois streams.

UBAP Malacologists Sarah Douglass and Jeremy Tiemann wrote an article for the Fall 2018 issue of Illinois Audubon: “The Enigmatic Asian Clam.” Asian Clams are an invasive species that became established in the Midwest in the 1960s. Douglass and Tiemann identified an unknown species of Asian Clam found in the Illinois River in 2015 and have been studying its distribution. They plan to examine the effect of Asian Clams on the growth of native mussels in Illinois streams.

The article is available from Illinois Audubon or by contacting the authors.

Illinois Audubon Magazine

Iowa Darter might not be as rare as believed

netting in ditchUBAP Ichthyologist Andrew Stites wrote a field account for the Illinois News Bureau’s Behind the Scenes to accompany a recent paper by Josh Sherwood, Andrew Stites, Michael Dreslik, and Jeremy Tiemann.

The paper, “Predicting the range of a regionally threatened, benthic fish using species distribution models and field surveys” developed a species distribution model for the state endangered Iowa Darter, after finding it in several new locations. This work was sponsored by the Illinois Tollway.

Read the Behind the Scenes: Finding darters where no one thought to look

Read the paper in The Journal of Fish Biology

It’s Mussel Time!

August 2018 marks the 4th year of the long term mark recapture movement study of mussels in the Kishwaukee River, led by malacologist Sarah Douglass. In addition to the staff from INHS, local forest preserve districts and IDNR, this year we were joined by several dedicated high school students and their teacher.

Earlier this year, Douglass came across a poster at the Freshwater Mollusk Conservation Society Mollusk Health & Disease Workshop that immediately caught her attention. The poster “A Comparison of Substrate Preferences for Native and Invasive Mussel Populations in the Kishwaukee River,” was presented by two students from an environmental science class at Sycamore High School. Led by teacher Scott Horlock, the “Watershed” class studies the South Branch of the Kishwaukee River to learn ecological lessons in a real world setting.

Always eager to inspire the next generation, Douglass invited Horlock and his students to join in the annual survey conducted on the Kishwaukee River. Despite it being summer break, Horlock accompanied a small group of students to the study site each day to learn about the sampling methods being used and become more comfortable with mussel species identification.

tree and rain in riverEven with a bit of rain, the river was what Douglass referred to as “nearly prime” for sampling. Like last year, we set out into the river, each claiming one of the 10m transects marked off by orange flagging tape. We waited for the timer to yell “Start!” stuck our heads in the water and fingers in the substrate to locate as many mussels as we could before hearing “Time!” measuring shellsAfter each timed survey we’d head back to our station under the bridge with bags of mussels to be marked and measured, gently ribbing each other about who found the most or best mussels.

Teams assembled to tag and measure all of the mussels, being careful to keep the mussels from each transect separated to return to their locations. The students joined in, eager to learn more about the mussels they had collected. While cleaning and tagging the shells, the malacologists pointed out the subtle differences measuring shellsbetween similar species. With each batch, the students (and other non-malacologists) became more confident in their skills.

Over the course of the three days, we found over 600 mussels, representing 17 species. Many of the individuals collected already had a color coded tag from a previous year, which is imperative to monitor the survival and movement of mussels in the stream. We added 4 new species to our list of live species this year: Fawnsfoot, Creek Heelsplitter, Threeridge, and Round Pigtoe. We also found one shell of a Pistolgrip, a species we hope to find live individuals of in future surveys.

tree and rain in riverKishwaukee Riverpeople getting gear onpeople getting readypeople in riverpeople in rivermeasuring shellsmeasuring shellsmeasuring shellsmeasuring shellsmeasuring shellsmeasuring shellsmarking shellmeasuring shellsmeasuring shellsmeasuring shellsmeasuring shellsmeasuring shellspeople in river

The Search for Flying Dragons on the Prairie

The Hine’s Emerald Dragonfly (Somatochlora hineana), a dark bodied dragonfly with bright green eyes, is a federally endangered species that lives in spring fed marshes and sedge meadows. The biggest threat to the species is habitat loss and currently the only known populations are in Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, and Wisconsin.

Hine’s Emerald Dragonflies spend most of their life as an aquatic nymph. After 2-4 years, and several molts, the nymph climbs up onto vegetation and molts one final time. The wings unfold and the soft body hardens. While some dragonfly species can be found flying throughout the summer and into the fall, the Hine’s flight season is much shorter. Adults emerge from late June through mid-July.

Observing dragonflies

One bright and sunny day at the end of June, I was able to accompany 2 of the state’s top dragonfly experts, Richard Day and Jim Wiker to one of the few remaining populations in Illinois. Equipped with sharp eyes and binoculars, they are part of a study with Erika Bilger and Dr. Mike Dreslik to design a non-invasive, rapid survey protocol for documenting and tracking populations of this endangered insect.

Eastern Kingbird

As the day warmed, dragonflies took flight, often followed by a flock of swallows and kingbirds. Being a rusty amateur dragonfly enthusiast, I pointed out the dragonflies I saw flying and had the professionals identify them, excited at how often my silent identification matched theirs. As my confidence grew, I’d point to a dragonfly and offer a hesitant ID.

Taking environmental data

A few hours into the day, Wiker spotted a black bodied dragonfly with bright green eyes darting around the wetland and called out “Hine’s!” All eyes turned to where he was pointing. This was my first time seeing a Hine’s Emerald and Day’s first time seeing one in Illinois. Truth be told, I had to trust them because it was moving too fast for me to fully process.

We continued our surveys throughout the afternoon, with Wiker and Day spotting additional Hine’s Emeralds and my eyes and camera missing all of them. Even though we saw at least 14 species of dragonfly, I returned home slightly disappointed, but nothing compared to the next day.

Teneral Hine’s Emerald Dragonfly

Sitting in my office, the phone rang and Mike Dreslik excitedly told me they were looking at a teneral (freshly emerged, not yet hardened) Hine’s Emerald on a cattail! Dragonflies can’t fly until their wings harden, so they were able to stand back and admire this individual.

Determined to actually see a Hine’s, I returned to the site with them for three days the following week. While most people were enjoying barbecues and fireworks, I was in a wet prairie straining to see every insect zipping by me. On my last day, with temperatures in the 90’s, and the clouds promised by the weatherman non-existent, I thought I might have been hallucinating when Wiker began excitedly pointing out a Hine’s patrolling a small area in front of me.

The curious male flew back and forth over his territory, occasionally turning towards me with his bright green eyes. Dragonflies have greater maneuvering ability than a helicopter, quickly changing direction and zipping off to your right only to return from your left. I watched this dragonfly on patrol, he chased off other intruding dragonflies including another Hine’s emerald! We even had a Hine’s Emerald female fly through the site!  I continued to watch the male patrol until it was time to move to our next site.

Jim Wiker

The team completed 126 surveys for Hine’s Emerald Dragonflies over a three week period. Sadly, they only found Hine’s during approximately 19 surveys and many of those surveys had only one individual. Despite the low abundance of Hine’s Emeralds, the site still had a variety of dragonflies, including:

  • Eastern Amberwing
  • White-faced Meadowhawk
  • Band-winged Meadowhawk
  • Blue Dasher
  • Green Darner
  • Halloween Pennant
  • Eastern Pondhawk
  • Common Whitetail
  • Twelve-spotted Skimmer
  • Widow Skimmer
  • Hine’s Emerald Dragonfly
  • Black Saddlebags
  • Wandering Glider
  • Prince Baskettail