Crayfish in Chicago River Presentation, Lab Tour Kicks Off Adopt a River Schools Program

Dr. Reuben Keller explains the life of a crayfish in his Loyola University of Chicago lab.

Friends' Adopt a River Schools program kicked off September 19 with an exploration of the challenges posed by invasive crayfish and a fascinating tour of Loyola University Chicago's crayfish laboratory.

Loyola University Chicago Department of Environmental Science associate professor Dr. Reuben Keller, Ph.D., led a tour of the university's crayfish lab for educators while Sea Grant Illinois-Indiana's Aquatic Invasive Species Outreach Assistant Elizabeth Berg spoke on her organization's crayfish identification and monitoring program.

Students in Friends' Adopt a River Schools (AARS) program serve as data collectors for Sea Grant's invasive and native crayfish research.

Elizabeth Berg is an Aquatic Invasive Species Outreach Assistant for Sea Grant Illinois-Indiana.

Also called crawfish, crawdads, or mudbugs, native crayfish are highly threatened in North America, said Berg. In the Great Lakes states, one threat to the native crayfish population is the invasion of other crayfish species, such as red swamp and rusty crayfish. Those non-native crayfish disrupt ecosystems by outcompeting native organisms, domineering the food chain, and physically altering stream and pond edges with their burrowing, she said.

"However, there's hope," Berg said. "Since many potentially invasive crayfish species have not yet made it to this region, we have the opportunity to manage the situation before it gets out of hand."

Sea-Grant Illinois-Indiana's crayfish monitoring program helps train teachers how to monitor crayfish in local aquatic ecosystems so that they and their students cay become community scientists.

Berg told the educators from area high schools that there are 620 species of crayfish worldwide. There are 23 native to Illinois and four are endangered in the state. Keller said the crayfish found in Chicago area waterways most often is the the non-native rusty crayfish. It's thought that some of these rusty crayfish was brought into the area as fishing bait and may be connected to the zebra muscle invasion.

Schools in Friends' Adopt A River Schools program implement a comprehensive river program at their school and at their adopted site along the Chicago River. They commit to visiting their adopted site at least twice a year  to gather scientific data on water quality (both chemical and biological) and habitat. Friends hosts annual trainings for teachers, has water quality equipment to borrow, provides a small grant program, and offers support and networking opportunities throughout the year.

Participants came from a number of Chicago area schools.

"It's so important for students to experience things first-hand," said Friends' Ecology Outreach manager Mark Hauser, who works directly with educators and students through the Chicago River Schools Network. "Kids do go away with a positive attitude about the Chicago River."

Educational funding support is provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Friends can assist schools in applying for funding support.

More information on our work through the Adopt a Schools program can be found here.

Researchers use nets to catch crayfish.