WEEKI WACHEE — Seth Miller leaned over the microscope, trying to identify all of the scurrying little creatures made large by the magic of the lenses.
He found out a few things about what lives in the cool, spring-fed waters that flow through the Springs Coast Environmental Education Center.
Seth, 11, was at the center of activity on a recent field trip with 16 other Wider Horizons School sixth-graders.
"I've learned that riffle beetles cling to smooth rocks in flowing water," he said.
The center is leased from the Southwest Florida Water Management District by the Hernando County School District. Cheryl Paradis, a teacher on special assignment, and her assistant, Ana Fitzgerald, instruct children from visiting schools about wildlife, water and other environmental topics.
This group began its day by examining samples to determine the quality of the water in the Weeki Wachee River. Students were looking for animal life that can only exist in water of good or excellent quality. Equipped with macro invertebrate identification keys, microscopes, water samples and data charts, they found several examples.
Nyema Manly, 12, shared some of the information she gathered.
"I've learned many things about the living insects inside the water," she said. "A scud is a little insect that can swim on its side."
Seth also learned something.
"The scud was in good water and does not have any eyes," he said.
Trevor Zhang, 11, called to Paradis excitedly with his possible discovery.
"We might have found a leech!" he said.
"Look at the mouth," Paradis suggested.
The creature turned out to be a flatworm called a planarian.
Another activity during the day was a water game, which posed questions about Hernando County water supplies, water use and conservation. Later, the children walked through the scrub looking for plants, such as the cabbage palm, beauty berries and blazing stars. The students kayaked along the river during the afternoon.
Lucinda Gutierrez and Tiffany Thornton were the Wider Horizon teachers who accompanied the students, along with bus driver/maintenance man Jim Ruckdeschel. Gutierrez explained why they had brought the students there.
She wanted them, she said, to have "a better appreciation of the environment."