Creekside Monster

My son David and grandson Peter were walking along the New River Trail that borders Chestnut Creek in Galax, VA, when they spotted a huge and interesting bug. This was a real whopper and very scary looking since it seemed to have massive and dangerous jaws. But I recognized it as a harmless male dobsonfly, which is the adult form of the aquatic hellgrammite, familiar to fishermen as a good bait for smallmouth bass. The larvae are fierce aquatic predators for two to five years and then metamorphose and emerge from the water for only a few days to breed, but do not feed at all. The spectacular jaws of the male are used to joust with other males and possibly to grasp the females for mating. They are related to fish flies and alder flies and are usually placed in a group called the Megaloptera. They are found widely in the eastern US from Canada to Florida and Mexico. Yet very few people have seen the reclusive larvae and ephemeral adults. So put it on your bucket list to discover the remarkable dobsonfly.

Bill Dunson

About Bill Dunson

Bill Dunson, born in rural Georgia, skipped 12th grade and went directly to Yale. Bill subsequent-ly received a PhD in Zoology from the University of Michigan, studying softshell turtles. Bill is Professor Emeritus of Pennsylvania State University thanks to a career spent entirely at that institution, teaching and doing research on the physio-logical ecology and ecotoxiciology of reptiles, amphibians and fish. Always curious about nature, Bill has dedicated his life to learning and sharing his knowledge with others. He has served on many advisory boards here in Southwest Florida to preserve the water that gives life to our region.

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