Life in the White River Lessons

The Stormwater Department has created some online resources to educate about water quality and aquatic organisms, starring the fish, macroinvertebrates and mussels that live in our waterways! The information is formatted as “lessons” that can be used by parents, teachers and homeschool educators. Just click on the title to pull up the accompanying graphic for each educational lesson and activity. Enjoy!

If you would like hard copies of our educational stream fish, aquatic macroinvertebrates, or mussel brochures please email

Stream Fish:

Longear sunfish

#LifeInTheWhiteRiver- Longear Sunfish. One of the brightest and most attractive species found in the White River, the Longear sunfish is a pollution-intolerant species that gets its name from the elongated opercular flap covering its gills. This “long ear” is also reflected in its scientific name,  Lepomis megalotis (“great ear”).

At-home activity for the kids: Create a Longear Sunfish of your own with origami! Get creative with this activity by adding eyes and bright colors. Origami instructions:


#LifeInTheWhiteRiver- Logperch. The largest of our darter species, the Logperch uses its elongated snout to flip rocks, looking for small macroinvertebrates to eat.

At-home activity for the kids: Using rocks and paint, create a Logperch of your own!

Rainbow Darter

#LifeInTheWhiteRiver- Rainbow Darter. These darters are known for their bright and vibrant colors that rival most aquarium fish! The males get even brighter during breeding season; the brightest males usually are most attractive to females looking for a mate.

At-home activity for the kids: Bring the White River to life in this color-by-number activity! Children use a key to match each number with a corresponding color — revealing a Rainbow Darter! This activity is perfect for both math and animal enthusiasts.

Spotfin Shiner

#LifeInTheWhiteRiver- Spotfin Shiner. This species gets its name from the dark pigmented “spot” at the back of its dorsal fin. Can you locate the fish’s dorsal fin? Do you know the names for all of the Spotfin Shiner’s fins?

At-home activity for the kids: Learn to count with this fun I-Spy Spotfin Shiner activity! How many Spotfin Shiners can you find?

Striped Shiner

#LifeInTheWhiteRiver- Striped Shiner. Looking at the sides of this deep-bodied minnow species, it’s easy to see how bands of dark-colored scales form stripes. During breeding season, these stripes are mixed with with a bright pink coloration.

At-home activity for the kids: Using a plastic yogurt container (or similar item), clear plastic wrap/clear plastic bag, rubber bands, and an X-Acto knife to create an underwater viewer to look at #LifeInTheWhiteRiver.
— Cut out the bottom of the container with an X-Acto knife.
— Stretch plastic over the cut-out bottom and hold it in place with two rubber bands. Make sure that it is secured tightly. Remove any excess plastic.
— Take your underwater viewer down to the White River and observe a whole new world! Just put the plastic-covered bottom under the water and look through the container.

Northern Hogsucker

#LifeInTheWhiteRiver- Northern Hogsucker. This species has adapted to living in the fast-moving water associated with riffles and runs of the White River. Their long pectoral fins help navigate the river bottom while their wide and flattened head creates downward pressure that helps to hold them in place.

At-home activity for the kids: Using natural materials and recyclables, create a variety of rafts in different shapes and sizes. How does the shape and size affect the raft’s buoyancy and speed?

Greenside Darter

#LifeInTheWhiteRiver- Greenside Darter. This is the most commonly sampled darter we see throughout White River in Muncie. It is often found in riffles with large rocks and filamentous algae. Breeding males will have very distinct green fins and 4-7 vertical green bars. Outside of the breeding season, female Greenside Darters can be identified by the dark “V” or “W” markings along their sides.

At-home activity for the kids: How many green items can you find in your home? Bonus points if you can find another green fish in your home!

River Chub

#LifeInTheWhiteRiver-River Chub. These fish are known as “mound builders.” They use their large mouths to build nesting mounds out of gravel and pebbles. These mounds can measure 2-3 feet across with a height of 8-12 inches tall!

At-home activity for the kids: Using rocks, sticks, and other outdoor materials, can you build a mound that’s 2–3 feet wide and 8–12 inches tall? Use a ruler or measuring tape to measure! How many inches wide is it?

Aquatic Macroinvertebrates

Mayfly nymph

#LifeInTheWhiteRiver- Mayfly Nymph. These aquatic insects are slender, soft-bodied, and have a series of leaflike or feathery external gills attached along the sides or on the top rear portion of the abdomen.

At-home activity for the kids: Spell M-A-Y-F-L-Y with an ABC scavenger hunt! Find items in your home that start with each of the letters in “MAYFLY”.

 Caddisfly Larvae

#LifeInTheWhiteRiver- Caddisfly Larvae. One of the most interesting characteristics of the caddisfly is the ornate and highly intricate protective cases they build as larvae. Different species of caddisfly tend to use different materials for their protective cases making  a diverse array of cases.

At-home activity for the kids: Using an empty toilet paper roll and natural materials and recyclables, create a Caddisfly Larvae case of your own!

 Dragonfly Larva

#LifeInTheWhiteRiver- Dragonfly Larvae. These larvae have mouthparts that extend out like an arm to catch prey. Dragonfly larvae have a cavity in their abdomen called a branchial chamber that helps them breathe and can also function as a jet propulsion mechanism to help them escape from predators.

At-home activity for the kids: What do you think the dragonfly larva will look like as an adult? Create your adult dragonfly at home!

 Black Fly Larva

#LifeInTheWhiteRiver- Black Fly Larvae. These fly larvae have a disk at the end of their abdomen to help them anchor to a surface, and their antennas are used like nets to catch food suspended in water. The number of generations completed in one year varies among black fly larvae, with some having only one generation, but most species complete several generations per year!

At-home activity for the kids: Create a family tree! How many generations is in your family tree?

Blood Midge Larvae

#LifeInTheWhiteRiver- Blood Midge Larvae. These aquatic larvae are very tolerant of water pollution. This is because they have hemoglobin which allows them to survive in water with low dissolved oxygen and gives them their bright red color.

At-home activity for the kids: How many red items can you find in your home?

 Mosquito larvae

#LifeInTheWhiteRiver- Mosquito Larvae. These larvae are also called “wigglers”- they can be found twisting and turning to get to the surface of the water, where they can breathe air through a tube at the end of their body. For this reason, they tend to like slow-moving or still water.

At-home activity for the kids: Using a balloon, straw, rubber band, and water, see how mosquito larvae breathe underwater! Using a blown-up balloon, place half of the straw inside securing the straw in place with the rubber band. Next, hold the balloon underwater while the straw stays above the water. Slowly squeeze the air out to see exactly how mosquito larvae breathe.



#LifeInTheWhiteRiver-Mussels. Most of our native freshwater mussels in this area use fish as part of their life cycle. Baby mussels, called glochidia, attach to fish fins and gills to absorb nutrients. Most can’t just attach to just any fish, they have to attach to SPECIFIC fish or they will not survive. To get her babies on a fish, the mother mussel’s body changes and creates a “lure” to attract the fish. The lure may look like a favorite food item or a mate. When the fish gets close, the glochidia are released in a cloud, quickly attaching to the fish’s gills or fins. The glochidia will ride along on the fish for a small time, then drop off and spend the rest of their lives on the stream bottom.

Freshwater mussels are amazing animals, but they have the weirdest names! In this area, these include the Fatmucket, Giant Floater, Creeper, Slippershell, Spike, White Heelsplitter, and Wavyrayed Lampmussel.

At-home activity for the kids: Using each letter of the alphabet, how many creative names can you come up with for mussels?