A group of Delaware Hayes High School honors biology students waded into the Olentangy River earlier this month, looking for a small, coin-shaped aquatic insect less than an inch long.

Their Sept. 19 search for the larvae of the water penny beetle was not in vain.

Students also found mayfly nymphs, stonefly nymphs, snails, caddisfly larvae and dobsonfly larvae. All indicate the Olentangy River's high water quality, which the students were there to diagnose during a field trip.

"Our class data was tabulated after the field trip and we are happy to report that we found the river to be in excellent condition," said biology teacher Jane Kovatch, who led the trip.

The discovery of the small bugs and crustaceans was significant because those species cannot tolerate poor quality water, Kovatch said.

The students also found species that thrive in poor water, including blackfly larvae, aquatic worms, midge larvae, pouch snails and leeches.

Also found were organisms that exist in a wide range of water quality: damselfly nymphs, dragonfly nymphs, beetle larvae, crayfish and clams. One discovery, a queen snake, was a hit among the students, Kovatch said.

About 50 students participated.

Kovatch said the honors biology course is for students who can learn at a faster pace and anticipate taking one or more Advanced Placement science courses in future years.

The accelerated course allows time for enrichment activities, such as the field trip, she said. The freshmen and sophomores qualify by having an A or B average in physical science and being enrolled in honors geometry or higher math classes, she added.

The survey took place in a shallow area of the river next to Mingo Park, and the students waded in eagerly.

"Students love having class outside," Kovatch said. "They really enjoyed getting in the river and collecting specimens. I would say their favorite species found were the fish, crayfish and the queen snake."

"They seemed to have a great time ... and really enjoyed what they were doing," said Peg Babson, a former Hayes biology teacher who accompanied the group.

The students collected the specimens using a "kick-seining" process, Kovatch said.

That means they disturbed the riverbed and used screened seines to drain water and catch the animals, which were released after being identified. Hayes keeps four seines on hand and borrows more from other schools when needed.

The students also conducted several chemical tests.

"Students used a low-cost water-monitoring kit manufactured by LaMotte for this data," Kovatch said.

While not "precision quality tests," she said, "the results are meant to give students an overall look at different components of water testing and to discuss how these variables affect the water quality."

The river rated excellent for its low phosphates level, good for turbidity and pH, and fair for nitrates.

Students in the Willis Innovative Learning Lab, led by science teacher Paul Olen, conducted a watershed assessment at the site before the Hayes students arrived.

Other field leaders and chaperones were former Hayes physics teacher David Carpenter, city schools technology specialist Paul Tankovich, parent volunteer Courtney McKeen, and Aaron Cook, the district's director of secondary curriculum and assessment.