Saturday, November 23, 2013

Status of Freshwater Amphipod Populations in Connecticut

One hundred and forty three collections of freshwater amphipods located in the Biodiversity Research Collections, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT were completed since 1959. Forty three collections were done by several researchers and professors and one hundred additional collections were done by me since 1988. All major drainage basins were investigated except for the Southwest Coast and the Hudson Rivers Drainage basins. Eight amphipod species were found. No new amphipod species in New England are being reported.

The following eight maps indicate the different amphipod species and their drainage basin location within the state of Connecticut.

Data indicate that different amphipod species appear within particular drainage basins and in one case (Gammarus pseudolimneus, Bousfield, 1958) may show postglacial drainage basin changes between the Farmington River and the Quinnipiac River. One species (Synurella chambernaini, Ellis, 1941) may have habitat preferences, as it is only found in the southeast in Red Maple swamps.
List of Amphipods found in CT.

Synurella chamberlaini  Ellis, 1941

Cangonyx pseudogracialis  Bousfield, 1958

Cangonyx richmondensis  Ellis, 1940

Cangonyx aberrans  Smith 1983

Gammarus fasciatus  Say 1818

Gammarus speudolimnaeus Bousfield, 1958

Gammarus tigrinus  Sexton, 1939

Hyalella azteca  Saussure, 1857

Distribution of Indicated Amphipod Species by Drainage Basin.

Solid red circles indicate species,


Tuesday, August 27, 2013

My World these days.

Update of my Activities

It has been sometime since I have done an overview of all the things I have been doing, many of them with teachers, family and Friend, so I have decided to add a note on my blog about my activities during this past last year.
Catching alligators in Florida


At the present moment I have been working at Education Connection in two programs: Project Periphyton  funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Adm8inistration (NOAA) and Project CLEAR funded by the Connecticut Department Of Education under an Inter-district Grant.

In Project Periphyton we have been working with 12 teachers from WAMOGO (Waren,  Morris and Goshen) High School, Plymouth High School, The Sound School (New Haven), Danbury High School, Newtown High School, New Fairfield High School and Crosby High School. Teachers and students collect Diatoms from rocks to use them as biological indicators to asses water quality.

Teacher workshop this summer
Project CLEAR have been running for more than 10 years and I have been involved from the start. The objective of the project is to have five high school districts (Danbury, New Milford, New Fairfield, Brookfield and Bethel) involved in collecting data for the Candlewood Lake Authority. Students and their teachers collect macroinvertebrates, core samples (mud), plankton, periphyton, fish, aquatic Invasive plants, water samples, stream macroinvertebrates and forestry data. The data collected is provided to a number of institutions and researchers including the University of Connecticut, The Agricultural Experimental Station, The Candlewood Lake Authority, Western State University and many more.

Processional Collections

For more than 20 years I have been doing an inventory of fresh water crustaceans in the state of Connecticut. At the moment I have collected thousands of specimens that are located at the University of Connecticut at their Ecology and Evolutionary Biology collections department where I curate all the fresh water crustaceans. At the end of this fall I will be adding 300+ new crayfish that were collected by the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection fisheries division.  In addition I am collecting more amphipods from several lakes in the state that will be added to the collection. I have detected several patterns compering species and locations and two amphipod species will help me reiterate topographic changes that have occurred since the last ice age. Rivers such as the Farmington and the Quinnipiac, which years ago were the same river happen to have amphipod species that appear nowhere else in Connecticut.

One Amphipod or Two?
Amateur Collections

I have always have had an interest in Botany and Paleontology, so I keep a small collation that grows all the time of plants and fossils.

My botany collection comes from this state and I only gather plants that are in flower. At the moment I have collected more than 1000 specimens that are kept in order and as herbarium mounts. I plan to donate the collection to a university in the future.

My fossil collection is becoming quiet extensive as I have now more than 500 specimens. I buy most of my specimens at fossil shows (I like to have fossils from all over the world) but I also have done some collecting when I have the time and the opportunity. I try to specialize on Invertebrates but I have some other fossils too.

Research Projects

Now and for some time I have been working on two projects:  The Biological Shoreline Development at Candlewood Lake looking at the Macroinvertebrate population and organic deposition from core samples. Candlewood Lake is subject to annual drawdown to diminish the growth of aquatic invasive plants. The objective of my research is to study the consequences of such activity to the lake shoreline.

In addition I have also been now for five years studying the effects of climate change in the same lake by looking at winter temperatures and lake ice formation.  I, with the help of the Lake Authority, have been collecting data using electronic probes set at several sites, under the water and on the air around the lake in early October and collecting them in late March. I collected temperature and light information every 3 hours for several months. Data shows that the lap of time when the lake is completely covered with ice is shorter these days.

Candlewood Lake Temperature Probe
The Prospect Conservation Commission

For the past few years I have been involved with the Prospect Conservation Commission for which I am now the chair person. During the past two years we have finished the “Open Space Plan”, and started to complete evaluation of Wetlands in town and inventories of the vernal pools. In addition we are always busy keeping with all the development that we have in town.


Ten years ago I published a small book called Fresh Water Crustaceans of Connecticut. I printed the book and sold about 1500 copies and now I have been working on a bigger and better edition of the book including specimens and information from the entire North East. The new book will be called Fresh Water Crustaceans of the North East of United States. The book is half done and at the present time I am working with the Clodoceran group. These are small little organisms that resemble mollusk but are not and are found in lakes, rivers and ephemeral water bodies. I hope to have the book finish and for editing and review in one year.


I should not skip the fact that I love to read books, science, history and literature and at the present time I just finished reading “The Historical Atlas of the Celtic World” by Dr. Ian Barnes and I just started reading “The Shadow of the Wind” by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. I recommend this book to those that love stories from other countries.


I have done some traveling this past year. My wife and I with some friends visited Ireland about two months ago, for 15 days. Ireland is a beautiful country full of pride and history. I specially loved visiting the Neolithic Sites, some of them older that the pyramids of Egypt. I also had a chance to collect additional fossils there. Italy will be our next European trip.

The Cliffs of Moher, Irealnd

I inherited the passion for photography from my father, who loved to take pictures and collect cameras. I take my camera everywhere I go and give my best work to my friend and family so that they can remember me when they look at their walls. At the end of the summer I will be taking my two 4X5 with a friend to some areas in the shore and do some experimenting with this large format. Large format is much more art and photography than digital equipment.

Family, Friend and my two dogs

I will be lying if I skip my time spend with my wife visiting art museums, my ten gran children and my two great-grand -children visiting  natural history museums,  dinosaurs, the fossil shows, the shore or visiting NY and having them at home too. Love taking my two dogs for a walk and last Love checking out restaurants, microbreweries and festivals for good food, wine, beer and music or having people at home for a good time.

Renoir and the dancers a the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston
So this is a short synopsis of my adventures. Please email me if you have questions about these activities and I will try to help you as best as I can.





Friday, July 5, 2013

Wineberry anyone

Here in Connecticut, Wineberry (Rubus phoenicolasius) creeps up in your yard at any time! This invasive species provides a berry to our wildlife and to us. Two years ago I had one plant in my home. This year I have at least ten. I did not plant them but I believe that the birds did. I let it grow because I wanted to see the flowers and the fruits. Maybe it was a bad idea. Here are some pictures to help you recognize the plant. Good luck!

Spending one Afternoon with the Hummingbirds

Everyone knows how difficult is to photograph a humming bird. They are fast and very unpredictable. So I went the Audubon Center is South Britain, CT, a great location. Inside their balcony on their barn they have several Hummingbird feeders. I setup my camera on a tripod facing the feeders and waited for them to come to me. There was some activity, not much, and many of my shots were throwaways but I got some results. I started by setting my shutter two steps down to make up for the light and used 400 ISO to increase the speed. That did not make much of a difference as these birds are super-fast.

Here is Connecticut we have the Rudy-throated Hummingbird. It migrates to Mexico and south of the border every winter but what is most amazing is that they migrate back at night and cross the Gulf in one flight thanks to an increase of fat and weight that happens just 10 days before migration.

Thanks to digital photography, it makes no difference how many pictures you take. Delete is always available and it does not coast a dime. So take one afternoon and visit a predictable location and start taking pictures.

Thursday, July 4, 2013


Early Mankind History from Ireland

Three words from IRELAND’s past: Paleolithic (before 10.000 years ago), Mesolithic (Between 10.000 and 5.000 years ago) and Neolithic (Between 5.000 to 2.000 years ago). What do they mean and how do they relate to us.

Not long ago, I was having a conversation over some nice local beers about my most recent travels to Ireland, and my friends became interested in my experiences visiting some of the Mesolithic and Neolithic sites in Ireland and then our conversation turned into some recent research done regarding our past ancestry with three other hominid species; Neanderthals from Europe, Homo florensiensis from the Island of Flores in Indonesia and most recently the Denisovas from a cave located in Russia.   Did we mix? According to the most recent research, yes we did. Read Scientific American article “Human Hybrids” published on May 2013 and also National Geographic Magazine article “The Case of the Missing Ancestor” published in July 2013.

There has been little found in Ireland from their Paleolithic past. There are some tools found in the island that may possibly date that long ago. Most Paleolithic remain were wiped out by the recent glacial events and by long ago geologic changes.

Paleolithic artifacts found in Ireland found today at the Dublin Museum of Archeology.
But at the same time remains from the Mesolithic and Neolithic past is well represented and worthwhile visiting.
In my recent visit to Ireland we visited three important and amazing sites, Carrowmore in Sligo, Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth in County Meath and Queen Meave’s cairn on top of Knockmarea Mountain. Most of these sites date to the Megalithic and early Neolithic era some 2.000 years before the Pyramids in Egypt.
Entrance to Newgrange Neolithic burial site.

Walking to the top of Knockmarea Mountain to see Queen Meave’s Cairn.

Megalithic Tomb inside Carrowmore.

Carrowmore’s Cairn.

It is hard to think that these people, so long ago were able to carry these heavy stones from far away sites and construct such amazing burial monuments. These very early people were able to work the land and have rudimentary agriculture, raise animals, work the stone, make artistic designs and bury their dead with such sophisticated ritualistic care.

I know very little about archeology but I have no doubts that if you visit Ireland you will enjoy as much as I did, seeing such amazing sites.


Sunday, March 3, 2013

The Many Ways of Learning

It was 1979; more than 30 years ago, that I started what later would be called the “Nature Under Stress” program. Today I still continue to support the same idea, learning through experience, though a number of programs that embrace the same ideas of my first program “Nature Under Stress”.

I grow up with the old theory of teaching, from a podium and in a classroom of four walls where lectures and learning were based on a text book. No free dreams, no personal experience, no interchange of ideas, no hand on approach, and all based on that the teacher is the gods that knows it all and the student is quiet and memorize the lesson to later spit it out on a test.

Nature under stress was based on giving the opportunity to students to learn from an experience,  and provide these students with a platform -where we could talk about what we saw, what we learned on our own by poking around in nature-. Later on we called that inquiry and hands on, but in 1979 I called it “Learn on your own”.

“Nature Under Stress” was simple. My students, most of them from the inner city, came on a bus to my park. Their councilors were already tired from the heat and the noise on the bus and with no intention of doing anything for the kids. The kids were all woundup and ready to explode after spending one hour sitting on a bus. My park was a shore park in the Long Island Sound with more than enough nature to keep anyone busy. I would take them out of the bus, and then I told them to “follow me”. At that moment I started to run as fast as I could in the direction of the salt marsh and wilderness and the kids would follow, not their councilors. Ten minutes later, the kids were in my game, far from civilization, surrounded by nature, with no chance of turning back and at my mercy. I took them out of their environment and put them on mine.

After jumping over mosquito ditches, walking knee deep on mud, sweaty and out of breath, I asked them to hold hand and then I entered in the shallow waters in the back marsh. Slowly they discovered nature; they saw crabs, fish, big and small, worms, and shrimp and became interested in what they were seeing. Their inner-city inhibitions were gone and their most intimate human nature was turned on,  watching “nature under stress”.

Throughout the day and after they spent hours on a discovery trip of their own, they opened their eyes to realizing that they were learning from an experience and that I was nothing more than a guide. There were so many questions to ask, there was so much to see and admire. They were not frightened anymore, they had learned that there was nothing to be afraid off but their own unfounded ghosts fed by lack of understanding and ignorance. They were also stuck with me not knowing how to get away.

There is a difference between something you learn by reading or by a teacher that tells you and something you learn by having an experience. A sentence, when you think about it is nothing but a phrase made out of words that have a meaning, a story, content but no substance. An experience is part of your life, something you have had a physical interaction with and that has provided you with part of the world around you, a part that you own. Real inquire only start here.

Later in life I started other programs based on the same idea. SEARCH, State of the Sound, Summer SEARCH, Project Periphyton and other programs were based on providing high school students the opportunity to interact with nature by doing research or monitoring and at the same time learn from the results. How many times did I ask the teachers to skip the lectures before the trip? Do not teach them until they ask for it! Let’s wait until they have a question so that they really absorb the lesson.

Students do not need to know that they are learning, because in reality we are all learning every day and at every moment. The key is to separate the students from their everyday life and surround them by the experience. You and the student, no one else, so that the experience becomes special, mystical, just like a fantasy, a fairy tale. Learning is beautiful. Sit with the student, give them a dissolved oxygen kit and show them how it works and then tell them to discover how dissolved oxygen makes a difference in the life of so many aquatic organisms in this stream. What are the results next to the rocks? How about at the center of the stream? Go check it out! And at the end tell me the story. You can invite more than one student to play together. To think how they should do this. Do not give them the answer. This is their game, and they need to think how they should play it. Testing methods is part of the learning experience. Do the same by testing pH, Alkalinity or collecting macroinvetrerates or Diatoms.

This is the order of the best learning. Discover – inquiry – more discovery – list of questions – maybe more discovery – WEB searches – Story telling. No teaching, to textbooks, no lab book or report no school walls, no test. To make learning happen you need to take the students out of their world of their problems, their friends, and their iPhone and immerse them on an adventure. You are not just a teacher but a magic act, a guide.