The National Institute of Water and Atmospheric research (NIWA) is encouraging Kiwis to explore New Zealand’s streams this summer to discover that they are a habitat for many creatures.
New Zealand has 425,000 km of streams and rivers and NIWA freshwater ecologist Richard Storey wants people to appreciate them.
“[We want] to encourage people to see streams as habitats. If people see that, they are more likely to value them and protect them.”
He says there are a diverse range of harmless creatures to discover, for both adults and children.
“Find a suitable stream, wade in, turn over rocks and explore amongst the plants and plant debris, safe in the knowledge that none of our stream-dwelling critters will hurt you,” he says. “It’s a fabulous way to spend a summer’s day.”
He says creatures include koura or freshwater crayfish, freshwater limpets, glow worms, (harmless) toe-biters, mayflies and caddisflies.
Many of them can be found hiding among logs, rocks or plant matter.
The koura, limpet, and glow worm can all be seen well at night as they have glowing mechanisms. The koura’s eyes shine bright blue in the dark, the limpet excretes a luminous green mucus when disturbed, and the glow worm has a blue-green light used to attract food and a mate.
Mr Storey says the best streams to find wildlife in often have coal-sized or larger rocks with fast flowing water, and people shouldn’t worry about disturbing the wildlife.
“[In] the big scheme of things, that kind of damage is very minor,” he says.
“Stream life is pretty good at recovering from that sort of thing.”
But he isn’t too keen on people taking the wildlife to cook and eat, although he acknowledges people often catch koura and eels.
“It’s not really something we promote that much,” he says. “Some of these things are a little bit on the rare side.
Mr Storey says people need to take care of themselves when exploring streams.
“There’s always a danger from slipping and falling…Wet rocks can be very slippery.”
He also recommends young children be accompanied by an adult and says people should remember to always take care around water.
There is also a small chance of giardia in the water, a common parasite spread by possums.
“Be careful about getting any [water] in your mouth,” Mr Storey says. “You have to wash your hands afterwards.”
He says people should also be careful to make sure the stream is not polluted.
“The best guide is if you know what’s going on upstream.”
He says signs of pollution include discoloured or cloudy water, or scum on the water surface.