Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966

Klukwan students study insect science in Skagway


Nine students from the Klukwan School got their hands wet and their boots muddy as they did the work of professional entomologists Sept. 14 on a field trip to the Klondike Gold Rush Historic Park in Skagway.

The students donned waders and collected and analyzed hundreds of organisms in water bodies for the Dragonfly Mercury Project.

The project is an ongoing partnership between the University of Maine and the National Park Service that involves citizen scientists from more than 40 states. The Klukwan students were accompanied by teachers Jessica Tipkemper and Fran Daly, National Park Service biologist Jami Belt, an interpretive ranger, a biological technician and a chaperone from Haines.

The students’ goal was to collect dragonfly larvae that will be assessed for mercury contamination. The National Park Service overnighted about 10 prime samples from Klukwan School’s collection day to the university where they will be analyzed for mercury content. Like in fishing, Tipkemper said the dragonfly larvae had to be a certain length or they were put back in the water.

According to a University of Maine article about the project, the data collected could help determine the health of the ecosystem and identify risks for other species, including fish.

Tipkemper said students used GPS to do a site study of each location and dichotomous keys – tools that use a series of descriptions that lead the user to the correct name of an organism – to help identify the species that were collected. She said that in addition to dragonfly larvae, the students caught fairy shrimp, damselfly larvae, midges, beetles and even a fish. 

Seventh-grader Ocean Nash said the students took on three jobs in two different locations: Going into the water and catching organisms with nets, identification of the organisms and GPS mapping.

Nash said his favorite job was to identify the organisms. He said he learned that dragonfly larvae have different families, and no longer thinks they are just “big, scary two-inch bugs.” He described the larvae as having long, thick legs, a wide head and a segmented body.

Eighth-grader Jayden Hotch said the dragonfly larvae look similar to adult dragonflies without wings. He said he loved putting on the waders and going into the water, and made the observation that they found less dragonfly larvae in the second location that had water flow compared to the first without water flow.

Fourth-grader Jerikah Musewski also said she liked going into the mucky water with waders. She had never done anything like it before. She was surprised at how long the dragonfly larvae could breathe and survive outside of the water.

Tipkemper said this was the first time Klukwan School participated, and she heard about this project through Belt after the two had been in contact about the students’ interest in entomology.

She said Belt told her it could take over a year to get the results back from their collection because data collection is still ongoing across the country. But Tipkemper described the field trip overall as “a great experience with the process of doing science.”


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