Monday, March 12, 2012

Just a reminder: French Creek is pretty neat!

I've heard many students grumble about the lack of things to do here in Meadville, PA.  My best combat to this self-inflicted boredom is to check out something that Meadville offers year round and never goes out of style: the great outdoors!  The crown-jewel of interesting outdoor aspects in Crawford county has to be French Creek, which is nationally renowned for its biodiversity and support of many endangered species.  French Creek is home to the largest (and coolest!) salamander in PA, as well as the greatest diversity of fish and freshwater mussels in PA.

All rights reserved to Todd Pierson
All rights reserved to Brian Gratwicke.
Pennsylvania's biggest salamander (and should-be mascot of Allegheny College) gets its Mr. Cool reputation in good part because of its name: hellbender!  In addition to the unruly name, hellbenders look downright funky.  Their head and tail give look as though they have been flattened by a canoe, their stubby legs give way to paddle-like 'feet' with four tiny 'toes' on each end, they appear anciently wrinkled and they can grow to be over two feet long (a hefty salamander).  These attractive beings live primarily off of crayfish and can only survive in relatively unpolluted streams.  This leads to a gold star to French Creek for staying 'clean' enough to support this slimy fellow!

In addition to Mr. Cool, there are approximately 80 different species of fish living in French Creek, 15 of which are on PA's list of endangered/threatened species.  Some of these species are considered indicator species because they are sensitive to polluted water conditions; this means that their presence in French Creek indicates unpolluted water.  For instance, the brook trout is native to western PA but has disappeared in many nearby streams because it cannot survive in polluted (or warm) water.  However, can still be found in French Creek and its tributaries!  And if you ever see one, my, it is a pretty fish.  Here's a young male showing off his colors during breeding season.

All rights reserved to The Express photographer
 Many mussel species are also indicator species because polluted water disrupts their feeding regime.  They are filter feeders so they eat food by sifting, or filtering, water for food particles.  When ambient water carries pollutants, the pollutants can clog or damage mussels' siphons.  Mussels respond by closing their siphons, which prevents pollutants from entering.  This defense strategy also prevents food from entering so it doesn't work forever.  But guess what?  French Creek has these too!  There are 25 different species of mussels in French Creek, 15 of which are on the endangered/threatened list in PA, so this creek is (pretty) clean! 

There you have it: a brief overview of some of the neat organisms that reside in French Creek.  Meadville has a beautiful stream right in its backyard so the next time you're feeling bored (or blue or angry or chipper) take a stroll along the creek to see what you can see!  Oh and I think the French Creek Conservancy would appreciate me saying that the more you see of this fine stream, the more you'll strive to preserve its fineness.  

1 comment:

  1. Yay, French Creek! Meadville has some good nature.