“Little Nuggets of Gold” Shine Light on Rouge River’s Health

Volunteers count stoneflies every January. The more they find, the better.

You would think hunting bugs is a summer activity. In the case of one insect, you would be wrong.

The stonefly is a tiny, golden-brownish critter that hatches in the winter. The Rouge River is one of its spawning grounds. On Jan. 20, 2018, volunteers will gather along the river to search for stoneflies. OK, but why? Who would go outside in the middle of winter to hunt for bugs?

The Friends of the Rouge, that’s who.

The nonprofit’s stated mission is “to restore, protect, and enhance the Rouge River watershed through stewardship, education, and collaboration.” Part of that effort includes searching for bugs a few times a year along the river, which runs from Rochester Hills to the Detroit River. Sally Petrella is the group’s volunteer monitoring program manager. She says stoneflies are a good indicator of the Rouge’s overall health.

“Some people call them little nuggets of gold,” Petrella says. “When you find them, you know that the water is in pretty good shape.”

And, the more you find, the healthier the river is.

“They’re very sensitive to water quality,” Petrella says.

Past stonefly searches have produced mixed results, however. They thrive in some areas, but not others. Petrella says in more pristine areas of the Rouge watershed, the insects do well. 

“We have been concerned that there’s just a few sites where we’ve only found them maybe one year, and in more recent years, we are not finding them,” Petrella says.

The difference is the impact of human development in places such as Farmington, Farmington Hills, and Plymouth Township.

“As we continue to increase development upstream, it’s going to have a big impact on water quality”, Petrella says.

More information about the 2018 stonefly search

The stonefly search started in 2002, with financial support from communities in the Rouge River watershed. By the end of 2017, however, that funding dried up. Friends of the Rouge had to scramble to find support. Petrella says the Erb Family Foundation contributed $5,000 to keep the stonefly hunt going. Another $6,000 came from volunteers, Washtenaw County, and Waste Management. Funding for future bug hunts is still in jeopardy. She says the group needs another $18,000 to conduct its annual spring and fall bug hunts in 2018. 

Click on the audio player to hear the conversation with WDET’s Pat Batcheller.


Friends of the Rouge



  • Pat Batcheller
    Pat Batcheller is a host and Senior News Editor for 101.9 WDET, presenting local news, traffic and weather updates during Morning Edition. He is an amateur musician.