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Kickin’ ‘N’ Pickin’ (FBCEC)

Laboratory and Hands-on Activities - Collection / Sampling
Outdoor Skills - Identification
Wildlife - Invertebrates/Insects
Participants will sample aquatic macroinvertebrates on Crooked Creek. During this popular activity, participants will use kick nets and other methods to sample “macros” and then learn to identify the more common genera. The lesson can include Macroinvertebrate Mayhem, a game from Project WET that illustrates the role of environmental stressors in aquatic communities.
Grade LevelK - 12
Recommended SettingCrooked Creek
LocationFred Berry Conservation Education Center, Yellville, AR
Education Program Coordinator, 870-449-3484
Duration45 minutes - 1.5 hours
Suggested Number of ParticipantsUp to 24
Special Conditions
Water conditions and weather permitting.
  • Learn the role of macroinvertebrates as indicators of stream health.
  • Identify common macroinvertebrates.
  • Lean how the environment can stress stream inhabitants.
  • Be aware of local water quality issues.


Key Terms*

Indicator species




Aquatic supplies including plastic basins, ice cube trays, ID charts, pipettes

Hand lenses or other magnifying device (optional)

Kick nets and/or small nets

Life jackets (teacher discretion)

Macroinvertebrate identification sheets and biological data sheets

Materials for Macroinvertebrate Mayhem

Waders (optional)


Crooked Creek is home for many small animals called freshwater or aquatic macroinvertebrates including crayfish, insects, snails, worms and larval phases of all. They often live on plants or in the substrate. Macroinvertebrates are sensitive, by varying degrees, to pollutants such as sediment, chemicals or temperature changes. One way to monitor a stream’s health is to look for indicator species of invertebrates sensitive to habitat changes.

  1. Discuss how macroinvertebrates can indicate water quality. Macroinvertebrate species are classified as sensitive, somewhat sensitive and tolerant to environmental stressors such as low oxygen, pollution, etc. Macros can act as the “canary in the coal mine” to indicate environmental stress in the stream. Participants will use their sample results to calculate a quality index ratio for the stream.
  2. Explain how to sample with the equipment and typical places to find macroinvertebrates (under rocks, etc.).
  3. Collected species are to be sorted. Some may use forceps or pipettes to transfer macros to an ice cube tray for easier identification.
  4. Identify major genera and the sensitivity factor for each organism collected.
  5. Discuss results. If the group finds large numbers of sensitive macros, what does that indicate? Does the presence of tolerant macros indicate poor water quality? What if the group finds greater numbers of tolerant macros than sensitive or somewhat sensitive ones?
  6. If time allows, play the game Macroinvertebrate Mayhem from the Project WET curriculum and activity guide, page 322.
  • Define indicator species.
  • Explain the role stream macroinvertebrates can play as indicator species.
  • Explain why one session of sampling may not provide an accurate measure of a stream’s condition. How could you get a more accurate conclusion?
  • Edelstein, Karen (1999). Pond and Stream Safari. Communications and Marketing Services at Cornell University.
  • Murdoch, Tom and Martha Cheo (1991). Streamkeeper’s Field Guide, Adopt-A-Stream Foundation.
  • Voshell, J. Reese Jr. (2002).  A Guide to Common Freshwater Invertebrates of North America, The McDonald & Woodward Publishing Company.



Indicator species – species whose presence, absence or well-being in an environment indicates the health of its ecosystem


Macroinvertebrate – organism that has no backbone, lives in or on the water for all or part of its life and is large enough to be seen without a microscope


Substrate – a surface on which an organism grows or is attached; any stratum or layer lying underneath another