Museum flies

Museum flies

David Sparks Ph.D.
David Sparks Ph.D.
A University of Idaho student entomology club has teamed with a campus fisheries group to create several educational display drawers featuring aquatic bugs fly fishers commonly imitate with their insect patterns.

Members of the Aldrich Entomology Club created posters highlighting key facts about caddis flies, stoneflies, mayflies, midges, the mayfly lifecycle and terrestrial insects that often fall into waterways. The club members selected insect specimens stored in alcohol-filled vials from the university’s William F. Barr Entomological Museum to include in the cases. They also took high-quality, close-up photographs showing the insects in greater detail.

Student members of the Palouse Unit of the American Fisheries Society are using the specimens as models for tying detailed fly patterns, the best of which will also be included in the display cases with the posters, preserved bugs and photographs. The cost of the project is just under $1,500 and was funded by the Clearwater Fly Casters Club and the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS).

“These insects are intricately connected to the health of aquatic ecosystems. The quality of a stream or body of water can be assessed using aquatic insects as ecosystem indicators,” said Dane Elmquist, a doctoral student in the Department of Entomology, Plant Pathology and Nematology who led the effort, along with members Jessica Fung and Abigail Crawford. “Getting people out there fly fishing, you’re almost forced to think about how these insects relate to the stream you’re fishing and how they relate to the health of the aquatic ecosystem as a whole.”

The clubs ordered the custom-built wooden drawers and will make two identical six-drawer sets. The Clearwater Fly Casters will receive one set to feature at meetings and use in community education.

The other set will be used at fisheries society functions and in displays at the museum and the university’s Natural Resources Building. Advocates for resurrecting a campus fly fishing course would also like to use the drawers as an instructional tool.

“When the entomology club does outreach activities they will bring the cases with them,” said Luc LeBlanc, curator of the entomological museum. “When I host school group visitors, the cases will be on display, as well.”

After attending a fly-tying night hosted by the fisheries club, Elmquist is eager to try fly fishing as a new hobby this summer.

“It’s amazing how fast some of the more experienced tyers are able to produce a fly. We had a rusty-colored ant in a box, and 10 minutes later one of the members came back and said, ‘Here’s a cinnamon ant,’” Elmquist said.

Sage Unsworth, a graduate student from Boise studying natural resources with an emphasis on fisheries science and president of the fisheries society, plans to bring the display drawers to his organization’s student mixers. Unsworth anticipates the cases will lead anglers to think more deeply about the role entomology plays in their pastime.

“A lot of people may know these flies, but they may not know what insects they imitate,” Unsworth said. “This project leads anglers and maybe entomologists, too, to look at fly fishing from a different point of view. They see a fly and how it matches an actual insect. It’s meant to mimic something.”

Clearwater Fly Casters has a history of partnerships with higher education. The organization offers at least one scholarship of between $1,000 and $1,500 per year, open to graduate students studying fisheries management at U of I, Washington State University, Eastern Washington University or Lewis-Clark State College. The club will host an auction at Best Western University Inn in Moscow on Feb. 8 to raise funds for the scholarship.

“Part of our mission is education, and we want to encourage people to consider the sport of fly fishing,” said Lynn Youngblood, co-president of Clearwater Fly Casters. “This display drawers project is a way to promote the sport.”

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