Education: Below the Surface of the Wetlands

Claire Lannoye-Hall is the curator of education for the Detroit Zoological Society.

Ever wonder what might be lurking below the water’s surface? Turns out, there’s much more in there than you might think!

The Cotton Family Wetlands has been providing guests with the opportunity to immerse themselves in a wetland habitat since 2012. The more than 200 feet of Trex decking walkways of the boardwalk (made from recycled plastic grocery bags and reclaimed hardwood) cross the 1.7-acre pond and wetland to bring us to the heart of this incredibly diverse habitat.

Native fish, frogs, turtles and birds are relatively easy to spot. However, some inhabitants require a closer look. The wetland is teeming with macroinvertebrates – organisms without backbones that live in water habitats. Our Volunteen Zoo Corps has been providing opportunities for guests to observe these incredible creatures through carefully collected water samples from the benthic zone of the wetland. The benthic zone is the lowest level of a body of water. Everything that is collected is returned directly to where it came from at the end of each shift.

Macroinvertebrates are present in pretty much all natural bodies of water. They are bioindicator species, meaning that some species are especially sensitive to changes in their habitat. We can count which species we find and know the general health of a body of water if the more sensitive species are present or absent. Our wetland happens to be in great shape, with a very diverse group of macroinvertebrates.

If you’re interested in learning more, there are several citizen science groups where you can join in on group studies. Friends of the Rouge is a local group that schedules benthic sampling a couple of times a year and recruits volunteers to help:

Our Volunteens will be on the boardwalk during MemberFest and several weekends between now and early October if you would like to explore the Zoo wetland residents. For more information about how to join our Volunteen Zoo Corps Program, visit:

– Claire Lannoye Hall

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