Robert U. Montgomery

Creepy Crawlies

The next time the fish aren’t biting, you can always skip rocks or chase frogs. But here is another fun thing that you can do: Go exploring for creepy crawlies under the rocks and logs that lie in the shallows of your favorite stream or pond.

This underwater world is full of interesting critters, some of which are so strange that they look like miniature versions of movie monsters. And some of them can bite or pinch! So be careful. Don’t ever put your hand or foot where you can’t see.

If you do, you might get a painful introduction to the hellgrammite, also known as the “toe biter.” It has large pinching mandibles, or jaws, as well as sharp hooks on its tail.

In between, it has a tough, segmented body with six legs and eight feathery appendages on its stomach. Because it is a poor swimmer, it hides, captures, and eats smaller insects, as they swim by.

If it lives to grow up into an adult, the hellgrammite turns into a Dobson fly, one of the largest flying insects. But many do not, because smallmouth bass and other fish love to eat them.

Bass also like to eat crawfish, which you also will find in the shallows. Depending on where you live, they might be called “crayfish,” “crawdads,” or “mud bugs.”

Wherever you live, watch out for those pinchers!

Closely related to the lobster, most crawfish grow to about 3 inches long, but some can get much larger.

As they grow, crawfish must shed their skins, or “exoskeletons.” That’s because they don’t have inside skeletons like you and me. Bass like them best when they are between skins, making them softer and easier to crunch.

Along with hellgrammites and crawfish, bass also like to eat most other creepy crawlies, including dragonfly nymphs, leeches, and mud puppies.

You probably have seen paintings of bass leaping into the air to grab dragonflies. But, really, they much are likely to eat the “nymph,” or immature stage of the dragonfly, which has no wings and lives in the water.

With its big lower lip armed with spines, as well as large eyes and three pairs of segmented legs, the dragonfly nymph looks ferocious. And it is--- if you are mosquito larvae, its favorite food.

The adult dragonfly eats adult mosquitoes, as well as flies and other insects. As the world’s fastest flying insect, reaching speeds of up to 38 miles per hour, it has little trouble chasing them down.

The leech, meanwhile, likely is the slowest of the creepy crawlies that you might find. And don’t worry, it’s not going to bite.

Yes, some leeches, which really are segmented worms, do suck blood. But the ones that you are likely to find in a stream or pond have large, toothless mouths that they use to eat worms and insect larvae. They find their food with six to eight pairs of eyes.

The mud puppy, a type of salamander, has only two eyes, but it is, by far, the largest of the creatures that you might find crawling along the bottom of a river or pond. In fact, it grows so large that anglers sometimes catch it while fishing with live bait. Others use the mud puppy as bait for bass, stripers, and other large fish.

Also known as the “water dog,” it was named for the mistaken belief that it can bark.

With a reddish brown back and black spots, it can grow up to 12 inches long. It has bushy, red gills with no gill covers. Unlike other salamanders, it keeps those gills and never becomes an air breather.