I loved this class far more than I expected to. Our teacher was an expert on mussels – those freshwater bivalves that aren’t “clams”. I had no idea just how fascinating they could be.

Mussels can live up to 200 years and were once so plentiful in our rivers and streams that an entire industry was built up around them. Unfortunately, between the pearl button trade, pollution and invasive mussels, their population has been dramatically reduced. We are seeing a bit of a resurgence since the clean water act.

We learned about some other freshwater creatures, and before we knew it we were headed outside to get our hands dirty!

We caught crayfish and learned how to sex them and examined them up close. The highlight of my day was learning how to hold them myself, without getting pinched. Its really cool how they arch back and show you all their glorious parts once you get a good grip.

This is a dragonfly nymph! This incredible water creature will metamorphosize into the adult winged dragonfly we all know and love. Its incredible that they are even related.

We dug into the water bottom and scanned for mussels. We found several invasive zebra mussels, but did manage to find one live tiny mussel! We did find shells of both an old and a fresh small spectaclecase mussel – a mussel that is on the endangered list. Its an encouraging sign that we found them there.

After class broke up, we hiked the Middle Fork Preserve, taking a different route than the last time. We enjoyed hiking through forest and prairie and worked up a good sweat for the next 90 minutes.

The colors are changing, seeds are setting and the air is getting cooler. All signs that fall is certainly upon us.