Yesterday afternoon I went to the chicken coop. It was the first day back to school for the children so I was alone and greatly enjoying the quiet. There were three eggs in the coop which I promptly put into the pocket of my shorts. I held in my hand a mug of lukewarm coffee. A rose fiestaware mug, to be exact.
Seth and Caleb were playing catch by the road last Friday. Across the road from our house is forest and when they heard a cracking sound, they looked up just in time to see a small bear jumping down from a tree and running away into the woods.
I had this in mind as I stood and gazed around me at the edge of our property. Would I see the bear? Was I nervous?
Our property sits on four acres and it borders state forest. A shallow but constantly running stream also borders part of our land. I walked away from the coop into the forest and toward the stream. I was wearing shorts and sneakers, the air was warm with a cool breeze and sunlight streamed through the tops of tall pine trees. Beneath my feet were old damp leaves and pine needles, and crackling twigs.
A frog hesitated and then took a flying leap into the water and swam under water soaked leaves to hide. I had surprised me so I stood still for a while just in case there were any others. In the center of the water beyond reach was a gelatinous mass of eggs. The stream had overflowed its boundaries with the rain, forming a nice big puddle of fresh water, just right for a frog nursery. As I looked, I saw a tiny little wooden thing slowly crawling in hesitant dips and bobs on the bottom of the puddle. It looked like a small pine cone … walking under the water. But that couldn’t be right, could it?
I was wearing my perfectly good black sneakers and for a brief moment I had to decide; would I or would I not get them wet? For a pine cone?
I dumped my coffee out and dipped the mug into the water to rinse. The water was cold and my sneakers were instantly filled with it. I bent down to scoop my discovery into the mug and brought it back with me, just a step or two, to dry land.
It was a tiny creature living inside it’s own homemade case of twigs.
I kept it in the mug as I took a few pictures and a video.
It’s “front door” –one the end of the case– was finished off with whitish twigs.
Right before I put it back I held it in my hand. It was less than an inch long.
I proceeded on my walk and as I walked down the trail to the road I almost stepped on a snake.
It moved away from my foot fast enough but then had a hard time slithering away because it was so cold.
Back in the house, I quickly located my favorite nature book and identified the strange water creature that I had found.
“People who have never tried to fathom the mysteries of the bottom of brook or pond are to be pitied. Just to lie flat, face downward, and watch for a time all that happens down there in that water world is far more interesting than witnessing any play ever given at matinee. At first one sees nothing, since all the swift-moving creatures have whisked out of sight, because they have learned to be shy of moving shadows………….and then something strange happens. A bit of rubbish on the bottom of the brook walks off. Perhaps it is a dream, or we are under the enchantment of the water witches!” ~Anna Comstock
Pity me, because I have to say I have never (until yesterday) tried to fathom the mysteries of the bottom of our stream….and it was only because of that frog jumping that I stood still long enough to discover my very own “bit of rubbish.”
Things I learned:
*You can take these things home, put them in an aquarium to observe them, remove the top twigs of its case, give it tiny strips of flower pedals, and watch it rebuild using the blossoms. They are “underwater architects.”
*The inside of the case is lined with silk.
*The worm is not attached to the case and if you turn the case wrong side up and hold it down, the worm will flip over within it to right itself.
*An artist named Hubert Duprat collects them, keeps them in climate controlled aquariums, removes them from their cases, supplies them with precious metal and stones, and thus creates (using the worms) beautiful little works of art. Click HERE to see.
*When they are ready to pupate (turn into a fly), it fastens itself to an object in the water and seals itself up inside. Eventually it emerges as a caddis fly.
* People make fishing lures using the caddis fly as inspiration.
*If they are located in your backyard stream it is an indication that the water is clean.
*They can make their case out of almost anything including sand, stones, or even a hollow stem.
*Someone made this.
For more information you can read the wikipedia article HERE.
In fact, the more I dig around the internet studying these things, the dumber I feel! Why haven’t I learned about these before? What fascinating creatures they are!
“Little brook, so simple, so unassuming
–and yet how many things love thee!”
PS, I didn’t see the bear. However, I thought I heard one at one point and peed a little in my pants. Bears, worms, and snakes….oh my!