CADDISFLY A Documentary Short

the massive story

of something small


Many aquatic invertebrates, most popularly the larva of the caddisfly, can be sensitive to elevated levels of pollution, change in average water temperature, even climate change, and because of this they are used to monitor water quality. First developed in the 1960s, aquatic biomonitoring is the science of inferring the ecological condition of rivers, lakes, streams, and wetlands by examining the organisms that live there; especially pollution-sensitive mayflies, stoneflies, and caddisflies. For the past 31 years, John Morse has used the gorgeous streams and rivers around the Highlands Biological Field Station as an outdoor laboratory to educate future scientists and professionals about how aquatic insects can be used to guard against water pollution, keep streams and rivers, and ultimately us, healthy.


As John, now in his mid-70s, embarks on a new year teaching the course, he reflects on how his passion for study and teaching has influenced not only a generation of scientists, but the lives of countless people. John's work, along with many others, has informed water quality standards in The Clean Water Act and its subsequent revisions. The Act calls for monitoring of pollution by assessing living organisms in streams, which in turn created thousands of jobs for career professionals hired to maintain water safety across the United States. Water is essential to life, and upholding safe conditions has only become more important as the country's population grows. However, the future of Clemson Entomology, where John has been training students, is unsteady. As researchers retire, they’re not being replaced. When John has to hang up his waders, who could teach the course and continue the legacy of his work?


Insects are vital to the world we know. Called the “The Little Things That Run the World”, insects drive ecosystems. Forming the base of food webs everywhere, they are grazers, predators, parasites, pollinators, and recyclers. For reasons still undiscovered, they're also disappearing. We can speculate on the why - climate change? Air pollution? Light pollution? Pesticides? What's not speculation is that insects are silently perishing in what's being called an Insect Apocalypse, which may be contributing further to Earth's sixth mass extinction. Entomologists are also fading away, as university budgets are slashed, and experts retire without replacements to continue their research. But even in an uncertain future, we know that clean water is necessary to sustain life, and scientists must have resources to maintain quality standards. With insects disappearing, and university dollars drying up, aspiring entomologists have their work cut out for them, especially since John is currently almost the only person in North America who can advise a Ph.D student in Caddisfly systematics. What does a future without insects and their authorities look like?

Do we want to know?

Artistic approach

We are planning to capture the enchantment of the field study through a poetic style of observational verité, punctuated by down interviews. Our story is based in scientific evidence, embellished by historical anecdotes from those who witnessed it all, and predictions for what may come next. The end product will be a short documentary, approximately 15 minutes in length.

Join us in creating magic.