Spring Break at Britannia Mine Museum: “Mini Mud Monsters” Science Experiments

This spring break we’ll see the return of the popular program Mini Mud Monsters.

This program provides visitors with a chance to meet some local residents, those whose return to Britannia Creek was a major turning point for the abandoned mine site. Technically, the term for these residents is benthic (they live at the bottom) macro (we can see them with our eyes) invertebrates (animals without a backbone), but here at the museum they’ve become known as mini mud monsters.

I get it, crawly bugs aren’t for everyone but these ones are really important! Plus, they aren’t going to sneak up on you like some other eight-legged bugs that shall remain unnamed. Mini mud monsters are the traffic lights of stream health, warning us when we need to stop and take a closer look. 

Sadly, damage to aquatic ecosystems is part of Britannia Mine’s legacy. For decades after the mine’s closure, dissolved heavy metals from the old tunnels flowed uncontrolled into nearby Britannia Creek. Fortunately, the Epcor Britannia Mine Water Treatment Plant began operations in 2005; since that time we have seen local aquatic life recover. Looking for small freshwater animals can be a quick and easy ‘pulse check’ to assess the health of local waters. 

Now, I’m sure you’re thinking “Angie how on earth can a bug tell us about stream health?” Well, it’s pretty simple.  All of these little monsters split perfectly into three groups, each varying in tolerance to pollution.

Black flies and midges, for example, can live anywhere and can tolerate a lot of pollution. Then there are dragonflies and damselflies that can handle a medium amount of pollution. Think of a messy bedroom, with an unmade bed and clothes scattered on the floor - but not a dirty one with a week's worth of old dishes piling up on the nightstand. Lastly, we have our green light monsters, when you find caddisflies or stoneflies; when these organisms are present you know the water is free of pollution.

The green light monsters are super sensitive to pollution and by finding them in Britannia Creek regularly we can say with some amount of certainty that the water treatment plant is doing exactly what it set out to do. 

For the Mini Mud Monsters program, we love bringing in samples from the creek and the pond in front of the giftshop and comparing what we find. These photos capture the very exciting moment KP found a caddisfly!

Typically, we’ve been finding lots of green light monsters in the creek, and only the tolerant and somewhat tolerant species in the pond. This doesn’t necessarily mean the water in the pond is contaminated, perhaps the reason we don’t find green light monster is because the water isn’t moving fast or is lacking in oxygen.

However, just the other week while working through the Indicators School Program, students from the Vancouver Education Centre helped me find a species of caddisfly we’d never seen before in the pond! To say I was excited is an understatement. I immediately got on the radio, calling all staff to come check out this cool new bug!  

BCMM Interpreter, KP, with mini mud monster in handsMini Mud Monsters: a lab sample in a glass beaker with Britannia Mine Museum sign in the backgroundAngie, blog author and BCMM Educational Interpreter, shows off a mini mud monster sample in  lab bottle.


Up until this point I’d always wondered what was causing the absence of the green light monsters in the pond. The plants seemed to be growing fine and the fish looked happy so I wasn’t too concerned but the question of why was always there. Finding this caddisfly confirms for me that even though the water might look murky at times that it is, in fact, a healthy environment for mud monsters and fish alike!

The next time you’re walking past a creek, I challenge you to stop and take a closer look. The simple act of turning over a rock can reveal a lot about our impact on the environment. Or better yet, come for a visit and we’d be more than happy to show off these exciting local residents!

Angie Skidmore 
Curriculum Program Specialist
Britannia Mine Museum