Leaf Pack Buddies

What lives in the Black River? Earlier this spring, we aimed to find out! Using the Leaf Pack Network as our guide, a 5th grade class from Union Street School placed several mesh bags full of various leaves and a rock or two (for weight) onto the bed of the Black River in downtown Springfield. Downstream a couple of miles, homeschooled students placed two more bags, each with different leaves inside. A few weeks later, the kids at each location pulled the leaf packs and emptied them into white bins to start cataloging the critters who had chosen to colonize the leaves.

The 5th graders worked in teams and found lots of variety between their packs, which had been placed at different locations along the river bed. The homeschoolers had placed native leaves that were already on the river bed into one of their bags (maple and oak), and experimented by stuffing the other bag with live Japanese knotweed leaves from the shore -- would the creatures be different between the two bags?

Turns out, the oak and maple leaves were pretty well skeletonized and had become home to a wide variety of creatures: mayfly larvae and a dragonfly larva, some snails, a planaria, aquatic worms, and lots of sowbugs. The knotweed leaves, however, turned to a slimy, stinky mush in the net bag. There were a scant few mayflies, a few small snails, and plenty of sowbugs in the knotweed, plus one aquatic worm.

We'll do this again next year, and try more leaf packs in other locations - the CT River, and a pond (perhaps the one at the soon-to-be Muckross State Park).

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