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Finicky Bugs

Riffle beetles are refined bugs. They like their water pure and pristine. Spring water, mineral water, mountain stream water—all these will do. Dirty water won't do.

Most humans aren't fond of polluted water, either, so the finicky tastes of riffle beetles spell good news for scientists seeking new ways to measure water quality. UNH zoologist Don Chandler and his students have found that riffle beetles, a species that lives in fresh water, are especially sensitive to water quality. When the water is clean, they thrive. In the Nissitissit River just west of Nashua, N.H., Chandler's team found 13 out of the 17 species of the insect known to exist in the state, a sign that the river is unusually clean.

But a tributary to the Souhegan River in Greenville, N.H., called "Vinegar Creek" appears to the eye to be clean but is in fact highly polluted. Only one beetle was found in that sample.

Chandler plans to continue his testing of southeastern New Hampshire's freshwater rivers: "Our goal is to create a manual for the identification of aquatic insects that will help scientists and state officials gauge the status of a river."

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