A rare aquatic insect has been discovered in Grand Teton National Park

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GRAND TETON, Wyo. - The recent discovery of a rare aquatic insect in Grand Teton National Park by University of Wyoming researchers may keep it off the endangered species list.

Lusha Tronstad, an invertebrate zoologist with the Wyoming Natural Diversity Database (WYNDD) at UW, and colleagues have been finding Zapada glacier or western glacier stoneflies in the Tetons the last three summers.

“The stonefly was previously only known from northwestern Montana, but we heard a report a few years ago it may live in the Tetons,” Tronstad says.

According to a New York Times article earlier this month, the western glacier stonefly and another species, the meltwater lednian stonefly, were proposed, in October 2016, for protection under the Endangered Species Act. A year later, a final decision was expected. The latest discovery of the western glacier stonefly in Grand Teton National Park and Montana’s Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness has put that decision on hold.

“The reason they (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) put it out for comment again is because stoneflies were found 500 miles from where they were previously known in Glacier,” Tronstad says.

Stoneflies have long antennae, chewing mouthparts and two pairs of membranous wings. The insect ranges in size from one-quarter inch to 2.5 inches. Species are gray, black or brown.

Stoneflies are important biological indicators of water quality.

Stoneflies are considered “shredders,” meaning they break down leaves -- that fill the glacier streams -- into smaller pieces.

“Think about your yard if you never raked it. They (stoneflies) consume leaves in streams and are important for the carbon cycle,” Tronstad says.