Teaching about Invasive and Native Species

A red swamp crayfish found in the Chicago River at the 2022 Chicago River Day.

An August, 2023 Curious City story on WBEZ radio about the red swamp crayfish – an invasive species found in the Chicago-Calumet River system – profiled efforts by scientists to remove them from the river system. Friends’ Education Manager Mark Hauser said that he and his students from our Chicago River Schools Network (CRSN) have been finding the red swamp crayfish, which resemble mini-lobsters, for years on field trips to the North Side of the Chicago.

“The red swamp crayfish is pervasive and is just one of the invasive crayfish species which threaten our river ecosystem,” said Hauser. The red swamp crayfish “is second only to Asian carp in terms of its invasiveness and potential to wreak havoc on local ecosystems,” according the WBEZ story. Hauser notes, “encountering a red swamp crayfish, or a native crayfish species, creates a perfect opportunity to have a discussion with students about the importance of native species to ecosystems and the determents of invasive species. Friends’ education and on the ground approach is dedicated to teaching our future leaders about the river’s health so they understand its needs and opportunities, and doing hands-on restoration to make the river more hospitable to the native species who are supposed to live here.”

Designed to provide teachers with the tools they need to meet the state’s Next Generation Science Standards, the CRSN provides K-12 teachers with the training and personalized assistance they need to teach students ways to investigate real world issues and create service-learning projects that work to solve everyday problems facing the river and our communities. Since its founding in 1996, the CRSN has engaged more than 475,000 students and teachers in science, language, and history activities at locations throughout the river system.