Salado Creek

Kaleb Heinrich shows a specimen of a damselfly captured from Salado Creek on Sunday.

SALADO — There’s a distinction between bugs and insects, Kaleb Heinrich, a biology professor at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, told Sunday afternoon guests of Barrow Brewery Co. in Salado.

Benthic Bugs 101 was the title of his lecture — benthic meaning aquatic life at the bottom of a body of water or stream, in this case Salado Creek.

Before the lecture, Heinrich, assisted by his wife, Ashley, waded into the water and collected bugs in five trays. He spread the trays among tables, and guests picked up the aquatic creatures with forceps, looked at them under magnifying glasses, and even put some of them in vials to take home.

Technically, insects have three pairs of legs, he said. They’re so important that life as we know it wouldn’t be possible without them. In addition to that, insects make up a lot of biomass in the world, he said.

“It makes you wonder who really does run this planet,” he said.

However, despite science fiction movies, giant flying mantises are not a possibility.

“Their physiology doesn’t allow them to get that big,” he said. “So they’ll never get big enough to take on Godzilla.”

A lot of aquatic insects spend the early part of their larva stage in the water, he said. Usually they’ll spend their brief adult life outside the water. Those that come out of the water are an important food source for birds, frogs and bats.

Heinrich warned his audience that one of the creatures in their trays, the creeping water bug, has a painful sting. The bug anchors its forearms in a human’s skin, and drives its pointed nose into their flesh.

Some aquatic bugs, like the dragonfly, are predators. A dragonfly may get big enough to catch minnows. Other bugs provide a service by scraping algae from rocks.

Late in July — about now, he said — mayflies hatch all out at once. It happens in about 24 hours, he said.

“If you’re a migrating bird, this is a great place to be,” he said.

A similar thing happens with a mosquito-like bug in Africa, he said. When these swarmed in earlier times, the local people used to think the lake was on fire. These bugs mate, return to the water to lay their eggs, and then their life is over, he said.

Damselflies are often confused with dragonflies, he said. When at rest, the wings of the dragonfly will be out flat. The wings of the damselfly will be back along its body.

One of Heinrich’s fun facts was that the water boatman, or back swimmer, makes the largest sound relative to its size. Another was that coleopteran beetles make up 40 percent of the insects on the planet, but he didn’t find any in Salado Creek.

Bill and Stephanie Abright of Gatesville poked around for bugs in their tray. Bill said he became a master naturalist through a Texas Parks and Wildlife course.

“I love going down creeks,” he said. “I love to pick up little rocks and see the little critters that are almost microscopic.”

Stephanie said she hasn’t taken the course. “I enjoy being outdoors, and I love nature,” she said.