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Oakton Biology Student Makes Rare Find in Des Plaines River

At first Oakton Community College sophomore Mike Buffo-Genyk thought he had found a tiny alien during an aquatic sampling of the Des Plaines River in his Introduction to Environmental Science class in September. Instead, he netted a Mississippi grass shrimp (Palaimonetes kadikensis), a crustacean native to the Mississippi River basin. While the Mississippi grass shrimp has been sighted previously in Illinois, this marks the first documentation of this species in Cook County, according to College officials.

Mississippi grass shrimp are tiny, translucent creatures about an inch long. This type of crustacean prefers a habitat with aquatic plants. Finding a Mississippi grass shrimp (sometimes referred to as a glass shrimp because of its transparency) in Illinois is rare due to the soil erosion that has clouded the water, killing the plants the shrimps needs to thrive.

Buffo-Genyk’s assistant professor of biology Paul Gulezian was ecstatic about the sighting and quickly identified the creature through an Internet search. He said that the finding is significant because of what it means to the environment around the Des Plaines campus.

“When the Des Plaines River is polluted, creatures like the Mississippi grass shrimp can’t survive,” said Gulezian. “This is a positive sign because it shows that the river’s ecosystem is improving.”

Buffo-Genyk, a resident of Park Ridge and graduate of Maine South High School, said he had no idea that he would find something so noteworthy in his biology lab that day.

“I knew right away there was something special and unusual about it because it was so clear I could see the creature’s inside,” he said. “I’m just a college student and finding a rare species and contributing to science is an honor.”

Added Gulezian, who released the creature back into the ecosystem in order for it to reproduce, “I knew right away it was a shrimp, but one I never saw before. This was an unexpected find and the shrimp looked like a ghost while it was swimming around.”

Staff Profile

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Gloria Liu wants to help students succeed in math, science, and technology. As co-director of the Center for Promoting STEM, she’s found a way to do just that.

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