The role of turbulence in the dislodgment of benthic stream invertebrates from the riverbed was investigated experimentally in a laboratory flume. For the first time, technological advances allowed measuring the spatio-temporal patterns of turbulent flow around two free-moving invertebrates (Aeshna cyanea and Somatochlora flavomaculata). A specific methodology was developed for the analysis of turbulence around benthic invertebrates. The results confirmed two hypotheses: (i) on the contrary to sediment particles, invertebrates are not only sensitive to the peak values of the turbulent flow forcing but also to the temporal fluctuations in this flow forcing; and (ii) the dominant temporal fluctuations are not due to local turbulent structures of the size of the invertebrate, but to turbulent structures that scale with the flow depth and are inherited from upstream. In 15 of the 17 conducted tests, important turbulent events that scale with the flow depth accompanied by rapid temporal flow fluctuations occurred at the moment of dislodgement. The dominant forcing was consistently a threefold increase in shear stress, and was related to a sweep event in 12 of the 17 tests. Thereby, the increase in longitudinal velocity was typically about 40%, which led to a 100% increase in drag force in comparison with the time-averaged drag force. These results enable a new understanding of the detailed hydraulic conditions leading to passive drift of stream invertebrates. In addition, they open new perspectives to improve models predicting the distribution of benthic invertebrates based on hydrodynamics by accounting for turbulence. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.