River Dwellers

Great Blue Heron

For a bird, I’m a really big guy (or gal), bigger than most hawks.  My home territory is north & central America & the Galapagos islands.  I build my nest in tall trees.  My favorite sport is fishing in marshes, rivers or on the sea coast.   I prefer to fish alone but like living with a large group of herons, called a ‘rookery’.  Besides fish, I like to eat frogs, dragonflies, crayfish, insects & even snakes.  Without me, some of these species would be out of control – so I have an important job for the ecosystem.  And I especially love living around the Locust Fork River.

Leopard Frog

I have brownish green spots-that’s why I’m called a leopard frog. My spots work like a camouflage suit & I need it because so many critters would like to eat me-snakes, herons, fish, raccoons & skunks. Even you humans like to munch on my little grilled legs! You can find me from New Jersey to Florida in woodland ponds or brackish water. (Brackish water is when seawater mixes some with fresh water.) I eat insects and other small invertebrates. When we have babies, we lay 1000’s of eggs hoping some grow to adult frogs. Our kids are called ‘tadpoles’ – without legs. They stay this way for 2-3 months. Frogs are nocturnal. In the daytime we hide in the leaves on the edge of ponds.  Why are we important to the Locust Fork River? (Please don’t say for frog legs!)

River Otter

Sliding & wrestling, belly flopping, & somersaulting, we river otters really know how to play!  We can glide on our bellies like a sled.  River otters are aquatic mammals with waterproof fur, webbed feet & flippers instead of hands.  We live along rivers like the Locust Fork bordered by woods & wetlands, such as marshes.  When we dive under water we close our ears & nostrils to keep water out.  We can stay underwater for up to 8 minutes.  Can you?  Underwater we hunt fish but take them to the shore to dine.  We like to eat crayfish, frogs, turtles & fish, our favorite.  While we otters spend most of the time in water, we do travel across land as well—often in search of a mate.  We are an important member of the ecosystem-can you guess why?

Dragonfly

You could call me ‘big eyes’ or you could call me ‘speedy’.   As a young critter, I live in fresh water for as much as 2 years before I morph into the adult, flying version of me.  I totally change.   As an adult dragonfly I keep my body thin & in shape.  Like a peacock, I enjoy wearing pretty, iridescent colors.  I have 2 pair of wings (that’s 4 wings).  Mostly, I hover around pools of water in sunny warm places.  As an immature critter I eat insects, tadpoles & small fish.  When I become an adult I eat flying insects like mosquitoes, aphids & other dragonflies.  Like male lions, male dragonflies are very territorial and will fight other dragonfly males to defend their home area.  But for you humans, we’re totally harmless.  You can imagine how important we are in getting rid of pesky critters like mosquitos.

Southern Water Snake

Did you ever hear the phrase ‘mean as a snake’? I’m not mean! Really, I’m a pretty timid fella (or gal) when it comes to human folk. I’m not venomous but I will bite if cornered. My body is brown with cross bands of reddish-tan (classy, huh?). My 9-50 children are born live, not as eggs. They know how to swim from the beginning of their life. Do you know how to swim? It sure is important! Fish & frogs & salamanders don’t like me! I eat them. Without me, some of these species would overpopulate so I have an important job for the ecosystem. I love living in the quiet pools of the Locust Fork River, but you will rarely see me because I’m pretty shy & I’m nocturnal.

Gray Fox

I’m a member of the Canidae family like wolves, dogs & coyotes.  But I’m only as big as a large house cat.  I roam from Canada to Florida & am often seen in Alabama though I don’t much like to be seen by humans.  My home can be a den in an old fallen tree within thick brush of wooded lowlands where I can easily hide.  We are nocturnal creatures.  When escaping a predator I can climb trees if I need to.  My diet is quite varied with mice & rats (yum), snakes, birds, eggs, rabbits, fruits and berries.  Hawks & coyotes have me on their menu when they can find me.  Most years I raise a litter of 3-5 ‘kits’ or baby foxes.  They are SO cute!

Beaver

We are chubby, industrious critters with a big, flat, leathery tails & huge, orange front teeth. (We should brush more often!)  We are rodents-that makes us cousins to rats, but we are much cooler that rats.  In order to gnaw through tree trunks we need really strong, sharp teeth.  Our teeth are orange because they have a lot of iron in the enamel-that makes them super strong & orange.  We beavers care a lot about family.  We mate for life & build large dens for this family of 6-10 beavers.   I hate to brag but our ability to improve the ecosystem & shape the environment is beyond impressive—when we build dams, we turn a stream into a pond that becomes habitat for many creatures and plants.  We are so important; we are called a ‘Keystone Species’.  Bet you don’t know this- During the Ice Age we were GIANTS about 8 feet long & weighing 200 pounds.

Flattened Musk Turtle

I’m a small freshwater turtle with a flattened carapace, that’s a shell or my exoskeleton.  The color of my carapace is usually yellowish-brown with black spots.  I’m very rare in the world & only found in the Black Warrior & Locust Fork rivers.  I’m very shy & live mostly in the mud at the bottom of shallow streams.  My active time is ‘crepuscular’, that’s twilight time.  I like to eat snails & clams & am an important member of the ecosystem.   I can live for 20-40 years if I can just stay alive.  There should be many of us, but strip-mining for coal, industrial pollution & too much silt in the water has killed off most of my relatives.  HELP ME!  I am an endangered species!

Goldstripe Darter Fish

I may be short (very short-only 2”) but I shine like golden sunlight in the water.  Who ever said small wasn’t valuable?!  I am a type of perch. The goldstripe darter inhabits the Gulf Coastal Plain, including parts of Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma, and lower Mississippi drainages westward as far as Texas.  I especially like to live in shallow, slow-moving streams where there are good places to hide.  Too much silt or pollution in the water smothers me.  I like to eat larvae, midges, mayflies, blackflies, beetles & microcrustaceans.  Sadly, many critters like to eat me.  The Locust Fork River is perfect for me.  Can you guess why I am important to this ecosystem?

Kingfisher

I’m a medium-sized bird with a rather large head, a long, dagger-like beak & I’m usually quite colorful with iridescent blue on my back.  I don’t sing but do have a shrill whistle.  Can you whistle?  I like to live near a river, like the Locust Fork, to easily go fishing.  But, mostly I like living in tropical places like Central America and Australia.  There are 87 different species of Kingfishers in the world.  We kingfishers build our nests in holes in trees or tunnels dug into river banks or even termite nests.  I like to dive into the water to catch fish, invertebrates and dragonflies!  Can you guess why we are important to this river & ecosystem?

Bobcat

I’m like an orangey-brown house cat but bigger & with spotted fur.  My ears have black tufts & the fur along the side of my face hangs down like sideburns. We bobcats have large eyes with elliptical pupils that give us great eyesight.  My tail is very short.  We live almost anywhere-forests, mountains, woodlands & deserts.  We are not very social & avoid people & even other bobcats unless it’s mating season.  My den is often in a cave or hole or fallen tree.  Only the females care for the young.  The males are busy doing guy things.  At 10 months of age mother bobcats send their kits out into the world on their own.  Bobcats like to eat mice, moles, rats, rabbits and even birds, like maybe your chicken.  Why do you think I am important to the ecosystem?

Crawfish

People call me many names: crayfish, crawdad, freshwater lobster, mountain lobster, mudbug or yabby. I am actually a freshwater crustacean who looks like a small lobster. I breathe through feather-like gills. Some of us live in brooks and streams where there is running fresh water, while others thrive in swamps, ditches, and rice paddies. Most of us don’t survive in polluted water. We feed on living and dead animals and plants.