A magnified view of the endangered Hay’s Spring amphipod.
(National Museum of Natural History)
Officially called Stygobromus hayi, the Hay’s Spring amphipod is so small it makes a dime look big. The amphipods look like small shrimp and are hard to find because they’re translucent white and live in springs under wet, dead leaves. And they’re found only in D.C.
Wildlife experts said a recently approved recovery plan to research and learn more about the amphipods and their habitat is essential to save — and revive — them as a part of the D.C. region’s ecosystem. Experts hope their plan will lead to their removal from the federal endangered species list.
“It’s an exciting milestone for this species,” said Kathleen Cullen, a biologist and species lead for the Hay’s Spring amphipod at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Chesapeake Bay field office in Annapolis. “This provides a road map so we can help improve the species and its habitat.”
Her agency, along with the D.C. Department of Energy and Environment, the Smithsonian Institution and the National Park Service, have been working together for several decades to gather data on the rare species and develop the plan to help it.
The Hay’s Spring amphipod was discovered by Leslie Hubricht in the 1930s in a spring near the Smithsonian’s National Zoo on Connecticut Avenue. Hubricht named it for William Perry Hay, a local high school biology teacher. Last seen in the late 1970s, the Hay’s Spring amphipod was put on the endangered species list in 1982 — having fallen victim to development and storm water runoff.
“Development in the D.C. area paved over and destroyed those spring habitats,” Cullen said.
The size of a pencil eraser, the Hay’s Spring amphipod is tiny, colorless and looks like a freshwater shrimp, moving with the flow of groundwater and feeding on pieces of leaves and plants, Cullen said.
Experts aren’t sure of their life span but believe they can survive underground for about seven years. Little is known about their predators, but researchers suspect that larger-sized amphipods eat them.
In the winter, Hay’s Spring amphipods can be found in springs when groundwater rises to the surface under leaves, and that’s when experts search for them and count them, according to Cullen. The groundwater level is often too low to find them in summer.
Researchers also rely on “eDNA,” or environmental DNA, taking samples of spring water back to a lab and examining it to see if genetic material of the Hay’s Spring amphipod can be found.
Hay’s Spring amphipods are believed to be at eight sites in Rock Creek Park that are owned by the National Park Service.
Saving Hay's Spring amphipod is desperately important. I think we need to return Washington D.C. to it's natural state as soon as possible. I suggest moving the national capitol to Fargo, North Dakota, and bring in the bulldozers.