The American eel is found throughout the eastern coast of North America. It has a slender snakelike body that is covered with a slimy mucous layer. They vary in color from olive green to brown or brown-yellow, with light gray or white bellies.
The eel lives in fresh water river systems and estuaries, and only leaves these habitats for spawning. At this point in their lives, they swim downstream into the Atlantic Ocean and migrate south to the Sargasso Sea. The female eel can lay up to 4 million eggs, after which she dies. After the eggs hatch and the early-stage larvae develop, the young eels move toward North America where they metamorphose into small, almost transparent "glass eels" and enter freshwater systems, where they grow as "yellow eels" until they begin to mature as "silver eels." Although the stages are known, much about the behavior of eels during these stages is still an unstudied mystery.
American eels hunt at night, and hide in mud, sand or gravel very close to shore during the day. These carnivores feed on a diverse assortment of crustaceans, aquatic insects, small insects, and any other aquatic organisms that they can find. In turn, the eel—especially in its early stages—provides food for predatory fish and birds of prey, including ospreys and bald eagles, wading birds, and mammals, as well as humans.
Eels were once an abundant species in rivers, and were an important fishery for native peoples. The construction of dams along many North American waterways has blocked their migrations, and habitat degradation, dams, and power turbines have led to the extermination of eels in many watersheds. Contaminations of heavy metals, dioxins, PCBs, and other pollutants also accumulate within the fat tissues of the eels, reducing their reproductive productivity. As a result, populations of American eels have declined dramatically in recent decades, a situation that is only now being addressed by conservationists.
The American shad is a type of herring with a thin body with a metallic sheen that varies in color from green to blue. It has dark shoulder spots and large scales that come together at the belly to form a sharp, saw-toothed edge. Female American shad are larger than males.
American shad are found naturally all along the Atlantic coast of North America, and were introduced to the Pacific coast in the late 1800s. Adult American shad can weigh up to 8 pounds, and feed primarily on plankton, tiny shrimp, and fish eggs. American shad are hunted by predators such as bears, birds of prey, wading birds, and large fish like striped bass, smallmouth bass, blue fish, and channel catfish. For humans, American shad are an important food source for both their meat and roe (eggs)—so important, in fact, that these fish have been described as “the fish that fed the [American] nation’s founders.” A number of cities in the United States host annual shad festivals to celebrate American shad.
American shad begin their lives far upstream in freshwater rivers and streams. After hatching from eggs, young shad spend a few months in these waters, eating plankton and growing from .35 inches to as much 4.5 inches long, before moving downriver and out into the salty environment of the coastal Atlantic Ocean. There they spend their adult lives in schools containing thousands of fish. They do not see their freshwater nursery again until 3-6 years have passed and it’s time for the adults to spawn. Then, in spring or early summer, they return to the rivers, sometimes swimming upstream hundreds of miles to lay their eggs in sandy or pebbly shallows. Females lay 100,000 to 600,000 eggs over the course of several days.
Many of the rivers in the American shad’s spawning range have been heavily dammed. This has severely impacted their ability to reach spawning grounds and, consequently, reduced their population. Efforts such as the Chesapeake Bay Program to install fish passages around these dams are an attempt to solve this. Another factor impacting their success is pollution. In rivers that were heavily polluted with sewage or other contaminants, the dissolved oxygen in the water was reduced so much that the fish couldn’t breathe, and shad populations plummeted to zero. This impacted the entire watershed food chain. Pollution control programs conducted by environmental agencies such as the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) have been reversing this damage for several decades, and the return of shad to northeastern rivers is a sign of this improved watershed health.
Shad populations have recently declined, however, and the reason isn’t clear. Is it overfishing? Predation by other species under stress from loss of their own habitat and food sources? DNA damage from pollution? We don’t yet know, but scientists are working on it.
There are 9 native species or subspecies of sturgeon native to North America, with Atlantic sturgeon (Acipenser oxyrinchus oxyrinchus), shortnose sturgeon (Acipenser brevirostrum), and Gulf sturgeon (Acipenser oxyrinchus desotoi) found in the rivers, lakes, estuaries, and the coastlines of the Eastern Seaboard. Sturgeon are very primitive fish, with skeletons composed mainly of cartilage rather than hard bone like other fishes commonly found in wetlands. They have long, spindle-like bodies that are smooth-skinned, scaleless, and armored with 5 lateral rows of bony plates called scutes. These powerful fish are known for propelling themselves completely out of the water in giant leaps, creating splashes that can be heard half a mile away (and farther, under the water). Why they do this is a complete mystery!
These ancient animals are slow growing but live very long lives, and can reach very large sizes—as much as 7 to 12 feet long—if they survive long enough. Sturgeon are iteroparous, meaning they spawn many times during their lifetime, swimming up the fast flowing, freshwater rivers and streams that they need to spawn successfully. They mature late in their lives, which contributes to the problem of population numbers if they’re fished before they have a chance to breed.
Most sturgeon are bottom-feeders that consume small crustaceans and fish that they hunt by sucking up food from the river bottom. They have no teeth, so they must swallow their food whole; a large adult sturgeon can swallow a salmon in one gulp! They don’t hunt by sight. Instead, they use the long barbels hanging under their snouts to detect tactile and chemical signals from their prey. They also have electroreceptors on their heads that are sensitive to weak electric fields generated by other animals. They use these same electroreceptors to sense electric fields from the earth, which may aid in migration from the river deltas and brackish estuaries where many sturgeon live and feed to the freshwater rivers where they breed.
Habitat loss, pollution, overfishing, pressure from invasive species, and climate change are considered the greatest threats for all North American sturgeon. All three East Coast species are protected within U.S. waters under the provisions of the Endangered Species Act, which limits or prohibits wild sturgeon fishing. The much-desired sturgeon is now bred in aquaculture farms for its valuable meat, caviar, leathery skin, and hard scutes, allowing conservationists to focus on rebuilding wild populations.
Most people are completely unaware of scuds, but the thousands of species of these amphipods form an important base of both freshwater and marine food chains, and keep aquatic habitats clean.
Scuds are tiny crustaceans, sometimes only a few millimeters long, that are closely related to crayfish, shrimp, and water fleas. Freshwater scuds live on the bottoms of shallow streams, ponds and lakes, where they hide under plants, stones and debris to avoid light and escape their many predators—small fish, tadpoles, newts and aquatic insects. In waters without these predators, a population of tiny scuds can reach up to 10,000 per square meter. Scuds walk on the bottom or swim just above it. They usually swim on their sides, from which they get their “side-swimmer” nickname.
Scuds are largely scavengers or “detrivores,” feeding on dead plant and animal matter that sinks to the bottom of a stream or pond. They also feed on microscopic algae that sticks to rocks, sticks and plant roots. These feeding habits help keep water healthy and clean for the other animals that share their habitat.
Scuds survive in many freshwater environments, but are sensitive to water oxygen levels and erosion. These can have an impact on the size and variety of scud populations, which affects animals further up the food chain.
Bosmina are tiny crustaceans commonly called water fleas. They exist in many freshwater habitats, but are rarely found in saltwater. They prefer still ponds and lakes with well-oxygenated waters.
Bosmina are filter feeders that eat algae and microscopic protozoans. They use some of their legs to comb through the water and grab particles of food, while other legs have mesh-like structures that capture food passing in the water. They are often found near the light-lit surface, where algae are most numerous. In turn, they are a primary food source for many animals, especially insects, spiders and fish, and create an important link in the food chain between phytoplankton and larger animals.
When a habitat is healthy, bosmina reproduce by asexual reproduction, producing clones of themselves that are only female. If conditions deteriorate due to pollution or other habitat stresses, males are produced, the males and females mate, and their eggs are dispersed by the wind to other locations. The eggs lie dormant, sometimes for years, and hatch only when conditions in their landing places are right.
A native of eastern North America, the brook trout has a dark green to brown color, with a distinctive marbled pattern running down its sides. Red dots surrounded by blue halos are sprinkled down its sides, as well. The belly and lower fins are reddish in color, and the belly, particularly of the males, becomes very red or orange during spawning.
Brook trout feed on a wide variety of prey, including aquatic insects such as caddisflies, stoneflies and mayflies, terrestrial insects that fall into the water, crustaceans, tadpoles, frogs, mollusks, and smaller fish.
Though brook trout once ranged throughout the eastern United States and Canada, habitat loss, silting from forest clearcutting and damming, pollution, overfishing, and pressure from introduced species such as rainbow trout have greatly reduced ther range and numbers. They prefer clear waters of high purity and a narrow pH range, and are sensitive to poor oxygenation, pollution, and changes in pH from environmental effects such as acid rain caused by industrialization and coal burning. As a result, they are more and more confined to remote streams at higher elevations where water has picked up less silt and pollution on its way through the watershed. Because of its dependence on pure water and a wide variety of aquatic and insect life forms for food, the presence and health of brook trout are used to assess the effects of pollution and contaminated waters.
Under pressure itself, the brook trout is also critical to the survival of the highly endangered eastern pearlshell mussel, a freshwater mussel that was once common in the Schuylkill and Delaware watersheds. The trout act as unsuspecting nurseries and transportation for minute larval mussels (“glochidia”), thousands of which are released into the water column by female mussels. The glochidia attach to the trout—usually to its gills—where they live as parasites as they grow and change into tiny, juvenile mussels. At this point, the hitchhiking mussels drop off the fish and settle down into the beds of the clear, cold streams that both species need to survive. No trout means no eastern pearlshell mussels, so agencies in the Northeast are working to restore habitats and rebuild populations of these intertwined species.
The American bullfrog is the largest frog species in North America, weighing up to a pound and growing up to eight inches in length. They are brown to green in color, with lighter bellies ranging from white to yellow, and often have dark brown spots. They range across most of the North American continent in a variety of different aquatic ecosystems, although in the west they’re considered an invasive species that is having a harmful effect on the survival of native western frog species.
They can be found most often in still, shallow waters at the edges of lakes, ponds, and bogs. They use plant cover, logs, and rocks to both hide from predators such as wading birds and large fish, and to ambush their own prey—worms, insects, crayfish, small fish, other frogs, turtles, snakes, or anything else they can manage to catch and swallow. In a healthy aquatic ecosystem, abundant bullfrogs are particularly important in controlling insect populations.
Male bullfrogs emit a deep bellow that can be heard up to half a mile away to attract mates and intimidate rivals. The males are extremely territorial and will defend their areas aggressively, even wrestling with rivals. Females lay as many as 20,000 eggs during the summer breeding season. These eggs hatch into tadpoles that grow and transform, or “metamorphose,” into adult bullfrogs. In warm weather areas, this change can happen in a matter of months, but in colder climates such as the Northeast, it can take two to three years. The eggs and tadpoles are an important food source for many fish, reptiles, birds, and small mammals.
Bullfrogs can tolerate warmer water than many other amphibians, and are becoming much more common in areas that have been changed by humans. Increased water temperatures and increased amounts of water plants—often signs of pollution—favor bullfrogs by providing good habitats for growth, reproduction, and escape from predators. That’s good for bullfrogs, but bad for other frog species that get pushed out of their habitats by these larger predators.
Caddisflies can spend from 2 months to 2 years as larvae in the water. The larvae produce a silk thread that they use to build portable cases, stationary homes, or nets to filter food particles from the water. The cases may include gravel, sand, twigs or other debris, which creates an armored shell around the soft-bellied larva. These silk cases can also help the animals breathe by allowing them to move their gills and create a little pressurized pump that pushes water and oxygen through the case and across their gills. At the end of the larval stage, the caddisfly sheds its home, and emerges as a winged adult. Adults mate and die within a few weeks.
The many species of caddisflies use every kind of feeding strategy, from shredders that rip up and eat decaying plant material, to scrapers that collect algae off of rocks, filter feeders and gatherers that take organic material out of the water, and predators that hunt smaller invertebrates. In turn, they are an important food source for many types of fish, birds, amphibians, and other denizens of the watershed.
Many types of caddisflies are sensitive to water quality and pollution. In fact, caddisfly larvae are part of the widely used EPT Index (“Ephemeroptera-Plecoptera-Trichoptera”)—a count of mayfly, stonefly, and caddisfly larvae—to measure water quality conditions.
Unusually, an artist named Hubert Duprat has used the caddisfly’s architectural abilities to create jewelry! The story, including images and a video, is here: http://www.thisiscolossal.com/2014/07/hubert-duprat-caddisflies/
Damselflies are similar to—and often mistaken for—dragonflies, but are usually smaller and more delicate looking than dragonflies, and their eyes are smaller and more separated. Also, their wings are usually held parallel to the body when at rest, instead of outstretched like a dragonfly’s wings. Damselflies are weaker fliers than dragonflies, but are still effective hunters that feed on large quantities of small insects and help keep those populations in check. In turn, both larval and adult damselflies provide food for birds, fish, dragonflies, frogs, spiders, and water bugs.
Many damselflies have elaborate courtship behaviors designed to show off the male's strength, bright coloring, and flying abilities, proving his fitness as a mate. The female damselfly lays her eggs in the water or inserts them into the stems and leaves of aquatic plants for protection. Young damselflies, or “nymphs,” live in the water and prey on insect larvae, water fleas, and other organisms. They molt their exoskeletons as many as a dozen times as they grow larger. For the final molt, the damselfly nymph crawls out of the water and undergoes metamorphosis into a winged adult.
Sensitive to pH, water temperature and water flow rates, and vulnerable to pollution and environmental degradation, the presence of damselflies can be a good indicator that a wetland habitat is relatively healthy and unpolluted.
Diatoms are algae encased in silica shells (or “frustules”) that come in an amazing array of geometric designs. Diatoms are single-celled organisms, but sometimes form connected colonies shaped like stars, zigzags, and ribbons. Like other algae, they use chloroplasts to perform photosynthesis, turning sunlight into food and releasing oxygen into the water in the process. Diatoms are a primary food for a wide range of insects, crustaceans, and fish, and their presence is critical to the health of aquatic habitats.
Diatoms can be found in virtually all aquatic environments, from tiny pools to the largest oceans. Although many diatoms are free floating, some attach to rocks, plants, even animals. As they die, they decay and decompose into both organic and inorganic sediments, adding matter to the clay, silt, and sand lying on the bottom of aquatic regions. By sampling and studying cores taken from these sediments, scientists use the presence, type, and population of diatom fragments in the core to analyze the conditions of aquatic environments in the past. This helps us understand how factors such as pollution, erosion, and climate change have impacted aquatic habitats.
Diatoms are particularly sensitive to nutrient changes, as well as changes in the pH (acidity) of the water, which impacts their shells and survival rates. One of the watershed conservation efforts currently underway is measuring and cataloging diatom populations in habitats unaffected by pollution and other human disturbances. As we better understand what healthy diatom communities look like, it’s easier to see how pollution and other environmental disturbances affect diatoms and the rest of the food chain that relies on them.
For hundreds of millions of years, the colorful dragonfly has been a common sight in many watershed environments, flitting above the surface of the water in amazing displays of speed and aerial acrobatics. Dragonflies are ferocious, voracious hunters, each one catching and consuming hundreds of smaller insects such as mosquitoes, flies, gnats, midges, and wasps each day. Because of this, dragonflies are important pest controllers, keeping insect populations in check throughout many aquatic habitats. The loss of habitat and the pollution of streams are the greatest threats to their survival.
Male dragonflies are very territorial and will patrol and aggressively defend their chosen space. Female dragonflies either drop their eggs into the water or lay them on the leaves and stems of aquatic plants. When the eggs hatch, the larvae (or “naiads”) develop underwater by eating other aquatic insects, tadpoles, and tiny fish until they mature enough to crawl up on land and molt into their winged adult forms. Adult dragonflies have large, multifaceted eyes—each with as many as 24,000 specialized lenses (or “ommitidia”)—and two pairs of long, transparent wings. Their long bodies often have iridescent or metallic colors, giving them a shining, jewel-like appearance.
An extremely agile flier, the adult dragonfly can move in six directions: upward, downward, forward, back, to left, and to right. The two sets of wings can move independently, giving it both maneuverability and speed. Large dragonflies can achieve speeds of up to 30 mph, although they generally fly about 10 mph.
The fishing spider is a large, strong, carnivorous hunting spider. This spider does not use a web to catch its prey. Instead, it is an ambush hunter that grabs any prey that gets close enough and injects it with immobilizing venom before killing and eating it.
The six-spotted fishing spider (Dolomedes triton) is more closely associated with the water than other fishing spiders. It spends its time among the aquatic vegetation at the edges of shallow, quiet ponds, lakes, marshes, and streams. It mainly hunts aquatic insects, as well as small fish and amphibians.
Fishing spiders have eight eyes, but it’s not by eyesight that they hunt. Instead, they use detectors on their feet and legs to sense vibrations from their prey. These detectors are finally tuned, and the spider can tell the difference between a prey insect, a falling leaf, or a predator, and can determine the direction and distance to the source of the vibration.
Fishing spiders can swim, which they do by “rowing” their legs back and forth like oars, but more often use surface tension to simply walk on water. They accomplish this with the help of tiny little hairs all over the spider’s body that are water-resistant (or “hydrophobic”). To dive, the fishing spider traps a bubble of air in its legs so it can breathe underwater through lungs on its abdomen. Six-spotted fishing spiders can stay underwater for more than half an hour hiding or pursuing prey such as minnows, tadpoles, and small frogs
The dark fishing spider (Dolomedes tenebrosus) lives most of its life on vertical surfaces such as tree trunks, bridge pilings, or the walls of buildings. Unlike the six-spotted fishing spider, it’s a nocturnal hunter—in part to avoid the birds that prey on it—and feeds mainly on large insects.
Freshwater mussels are bivalve mollusks like clams and oysters, with hinged shells that can snap shut to protect the soft-bodied animal within. Like all mollusks, the freshwater mussel has a muscular “foot” that it uses to move slowly or bury itself in the sand and gravel bottom of the waterways in which it lives. This animal grows slowly and has a remarkably long lifespan—as many as 100 years or more! It can grow up to six inches long, but it begins its life as a tiny larvae released into the water column by the female mussel. To survive, larval mussels (or “glochidia”) must attach themselves to the gills of a fish host such as brook trout. Here the glochidia live as parasites until they grow large enough to survive independently. At this point, the hitchhiking mussels drop off the fish and settle down into the beds of the clear, cold streams or rivers that both the mussel and the fish need to survive.
Juvenile and adult mussels live buried or partly buried in the sand and fine gravel that line the river bottom. They cannot survive in muddy or very silty environments, so erosion and sedimentation of rivers takes a serious toll on the mussel’s survival. Mussels feed by inhaling water and filtering out tiny organic particles of food. It is believed that, when mussels were abundant, this filter feeding helped clean the water and improved the environment for all species living in it, but there are so few mussels now that they can no longer perform this function in freshwater ecosystems.
Freshwater mussels were once the most abundant bivalve mollusk in rivers around the world, but their populations have seen steep declines or they have disappeared completely from many areas, and the freshwater mussel is now an endangered species. Much of this decline can be attributed to loss of habitat, dredging, pollution, erosion, the introduction of invasive species like the zebra mussel, and declines in the fish species critical to the nurture and dispersal of juvenile mussels. Conservation efforts, including habitat restoration and restocking of waterways with both adult mussels and juvenile trout and salmon, are underway to restore mussel populations to the wetlands in which they once thrived.
The Great Blue Heron can be found wading along the shoreline and in the shallows of wetland environments throughout North America year-round, and into Central America during the winter, where they migrate from more northern states. This is the largest of the North American herons, with a long neck and legs, a sharp, dagger-like bill, distinctive blue-grey plumage, and a white head with dark crown.
This bird stands very still or moves slowly through shallow water hunting for anything it can eat—fish, amphibians, reptiles, large insects, and small birds. When it sees prey, its head and sharp beak move with lightning speed to snatch or impale it, and then it’s swallowed whole. Specially shaped neck vertebrae give this heron a faster and longer strike than normal, making it an effective hunter. It thrives in both saltwater and freshwater wetland habitats as long as there are abundant prey species available and pollution from mercury, pesticides, and fertilizers is low.
Great Blue Herons like to congregate at fish hatcheries, where prey is easy to come by. Fish farmers didn’t care for them eating their profits, but a study found that, as they do in the wild, herons mostly ate diseased fish that spent more time near the surface. Their hunting actually improved the health of the other fish by removing disease from the population.
These solitary hunters fly with slow wing beats and their heads and long necks pulled back into their shoulders. They only gather together for breeding, creating large colonies with up to 500 nests. Undisturbed mangroves and tree stands are particularly prized for nesting, and the destruction of these habitats for coastal development has had a large impact on heron populations. Conservation of wetland habitats, however, has helped this species rebound in recent years.
The largemouth bass is a freshwater fish native to North America. This popular gamefish is olive green, with dark spots creating a horizontal stripe down its sides. Although rare, the largemouth bass can weigh more than 20 pounds and grow as much as 29 inches in length over its lifespan, which averages 16 years. These are very ecologically tolerant fish capable of surviving in a wide variety of climates and waters throughout North America, including lakes, ponds, reservoirs, large rivers, and slow-moving streams with lots of vegetation. Largemouths often school together and can be found in groups around underwater structures, such as tree stumps, large rocks, drop offs, and dock pilings.
Unlike many animals, the male largemouth is responsible for the young. He creates a nest in the riverbed where the female lays thousands of eggs. The male fiercely guards the eggs for a week until they hatch into larvae (or “fry”), and then stays with the school of larvae (called a “brood swarm”) for up to a month while they feed on tiny copepods and insect larvae until they’re large enough to survive on their own.
Juvenile largemouth bass consume mostly small fish, shrimp, and insects. As they grow, they hunt larger fish such as shad, perch, and the young of pike, catfish, trout, and other bass species, as well as snails, crawfish, frogs, snakes, and even small water birds, mammals, and reptiles. From the cover of overhanging banks and brush, or submerged weedbeds and topographical variations in the river bottom, the largemouth bass uses hearing, sight, vibration, and smell to attack and seize prey as large as 50% of its own body length. Adult largemouth are generally “apex predators” at the top of the food chain within their watery habitat, but they are preyed upon by many animals, from larger fish to mammals and birds, while young and small.
In their watershed habitats, the presence of aquatic plants helps slow these voracious hunters by providing cover for prey and making hunting more difficult. When plants disappear due to pollution or habitat degradation, largemouth bass can decimate populations of other species, and then starve in turn when the prey runs out.
The health of streams and the watersheds they create is dependent on the presence of healthy woody vegetation, like the maple tree, along the stream bank. Like other trees in the watershed, maples pull pollutants out of the air and water, and provide shade that cools the water, inhibiting the growth of dangerous algae that bloom when the water warms. Their roots also hold the land together around the watershed, controlling erosion (especially during storms) and reducing deposits of sediment that can choke waterways, kill wildlife, and harm water quality.
Trees such as maples are particularly important for removing and storing pollutants such as nitrogen from the air, water, and soil before they reach the water and poison wildlife or cause algae blooms that steal oxygen from fish, amphibians and insects. One acre of trees in a watershed buffer zone can “clean” the nitrogen, phosphorous, and other pollutants pouring into the watershed from four acres of agricultural land.
Trees also absorb huge amounts of water, including storm water runoff, and slowly return it to the air and ground in a process that cools the environment, keeps clean water cycling in the watershed, and reduces flooding downstream. Their leafy canopies also slow the fall of rainwater to the forest floor, reducing erosion and allowing the land to absorb the water and release it back into the watershed system.
Deciduous trees like the maple drop their leaves in fall and winter. As these leaves drift to earth, they fall into streams and ponds, where they decay and create a rich layer of organic matter on the streambed that feeds microorganisms and larval insects and fish that form the base of a healthy food chain. In spring and summer, fallen leaves also provide anchors for eggs, hiding places for small fish and insects, and hunting platforms for tiny amphibians, insects, and spiders. A floating maple leaf is an ecosystem all its own!
The northern water snake is found across most of the northeastern US, as far west as Nebraska and as far south as North Carolina. They’ve recently been introduced into California and are becoming an invasive species there. Typically the only large water snake to be found in its territory, this reptile is a fierce predator in the ponds, lakes, rivers, and streams in which it lives. It feeds on tadpoles, fish, frogs, insects, crayfish—even birds and small mammals—all of which are swallowed whole. When not hunting, the water snake can be found basking on the shore or in tree branches, or hiding under rocks and fallen logs.
Water snakes are a good indicator of a healthy watershed. When conditions are good and prey are plentiful, these snakes can be found in high numbers, feeding on the many creatures that inhabit the watershed and, in turn, providing food for animals such as foxes, raccoons, and birds of prey.
The northern water snake comes in a surprising array of colors—from light copper to reddish to very dark grey or black—and often has banded markings. As they age, the snake’s color becomes duller and darker until it appears almost solid brown or black. Only a few inches long at birth, they can grow to be more than 4.5 feet in length.
Water snakes are not venomous, but they can be aggressive and will bite if they feel threatened. They can also release a foul-smelling, musky odor to deter predators. However, they’re more likely to escape threats by submerging beneath the water, where they can remain for up to 90 minutes. The brown-colored version of this snake is often mistaken for its venomous cousin, the cottonmouth, which has led to many of them being killed by their human neighbors.
Spatterdock, or yellow pond lily, is a native water lily found throughout the eastern US and the northeastern parts of Canada. It’s found in a wide variety of shallow wetland environments with calm waters: ponds, lakes, sluggish streams and rivers, springs, marshes, ditches, canals, sloughs, even tidal waters.
Its thick round or heart-shaped leaves can grow up to 12 inches wide. They grow from a long stalk—as much as six feet long—anchored by roots to the muddy bottom. If the water level drops, the leaves can survive above the water level. When the water rises, the leaves float on the surface. With the coming of winter, the plant dies, but grows again from the same roots in the following spring. Those roots extend beneath the soil, sending out rhizomes that spawn clones that grow into big colonies. In summer, this plant grows yellow, globe-like flowers with thick petals that encase a pod loaded with seeds. This unusual flower is a relic from the earliest evolution of flowering plants.
Spatterdock provides shelter and hiding places for wildlife—fish, insects, snakes, turtles, frogs, and other amphibians. Waterfowl eat the seeds, and beavers eat the leaves of this water lily. The leaves also provide resting places for insects and birds, as well as a place where insects and amphibians can attach their eggs.
Spatterdock used to be used in traditional medicine. The root was applied to the skin, and both the root and seeds were eaten for a variety of conditions. The seeds are edible, and can be ground into flour or popped like popcorn. The root is edible, but can be incredibly bitter.
Ospreys are birds of prey (or “raptors”) found in a variety of watershed environments around the world—rivers, ponds, estuaries, marshes, reservoirs, even saltwater coral reefs! Their large stick nests are often easy to spot, perched high on dead trees, poles (including light and telephone poles), and channel markers. They prefer to nest over water, but will make their nests in any suitable spot close to their hunting grounds.
Ospreys are large hawks, and can grow to have wingspans almost six feet wide. Their thin bodies, long legs, white bellies, and white heads with distinctive brown stripes running down the sides make it easy to tell them apart from other raptors such as the red-tailed hawks and bald eagles that share their habitats. They are unique among North American birds of prey for their strict diet of live fish and their ability to dive and catch them in water up to three feet deep. Ospreys search for fish by flying steadily over or circling high above relatively shallow water. They often hover briefly before diving feet-first to grab a fish. Barbed pads on the soles of their feet help them keep their grip on the slippery fish. An osprey’s prey is usually 6-13 inches long, so healthy populations of multiple species of juvenile fish in a habitat are critical to its survival.
Ospreys are a conservation success story. As in other regions of North America, ospreys were once common in Pennsylvania, but they were largely wiped out during the 1950s from the effects of the pesticide DDT. In the 1980s, conservationists introduced 6 ospreys back into the Pennsylvania watershed environment, and now, 35 years later, 100 breeding pairs call Pennsylvania home. Similar successes have been seen throughout North America and other continents.
Painted turtles are common inhabitants of wetlands throughout North America. In the Northeast, the dominant subspecies are the eastern painted turtle and, sometimes, the midland painted turtle. The eastern painted turtle has a flattened, smooth, black shell with thick lines between the plates, or “scutes.” The bottom of the shell is yellow or stained a rusty color, and the turtle has yellow and red stripes on its head, neck, legs, and tail.
These turtles bask in large groups on logs and rocks. Soaking up sunlight warms these cold-blooded creatures and helps them rid themselves of parasites such as leeches that don’t care for light. At the first sign of danger, all the turtles will dive back into the water to hide.
Painted turtles are opportunistic omnivores, feeding on many types of aquatic plants such as water lilies, duckweed, and algae, as well as earthworms, insects, crayfish, tadpoles, fish, frogs, and even dead animals. In turn, painted turtles are food for herons, raccoons, snakes, hawks, foxes, and large fish.
Painted turtles are quite long-lived, perhaps reaching 60 years or more in the wild. With human communities encroaching on wild wetland habitats, being hit by vehicles while crossing roads is a significant source of mortality to this species. The turtles crossing roads are often pregnant females searching for nesting sites, which impacts population numbers. There is also concern that native painted turtles are facing competition for food and basking sites from non-native red-eared sliders that have been released into the wild by pet owners who no longer want to care for them.
Phytoplankton (or “algae”) are tiny, single-celled plants that are free-floating and mostly microscopic. They are found in every kind of aquatic environment, from freshwater puddles to arctic oceans. There are many species of phytoplankton, including diatoms and dinoflagellates. A single drop of water from a healthy aquatic environment may have thousands of phytoplankton in it. Although microscopic, large concentrations of phytoplankton can create colored patches of green, blue, orange, or red in the water.
Phytoplankton are the key to life in a wetland because they are the primary producers of oxygen and food, forming the base of the complex food chains that exist in all aquatic habitats. Phytoplankton are eaten by larger zooplankton (microscopic animals), fish and insect larvae, shellfish, crustaceans, even adult fish. Without them, these animals would die, as would the larger animals that depend on them for their food.
Phytoplankton need sunlight to live and grow and, like other plants, use photosynthesis to turn the sun’s energy into food. It’s during this process that phytoplankton release oxygen into the water, helping other animals in the environment breathe. Between 50% and 85% of the world's oxygen is produced via phytoplankton photosynthesis! Because they need light, phytoplankton are most often found near the surface of the water.
Phytoplankton are very sensitive to changes in nutrient levels, and can quickly die off or undergo dramatic population explosions (or “blooms”) that cause them to overwhelm a habitat, rob it of oxygen, and cause other species to suffocate and die. Because of this sensitivity, phytoplankton populations are excellent indicators of pollution levels and habitat health.
Pickerelweed is an aquatic plant native to the Americas, and flourishes in a wide variety of wetlands from Canada to Argentina. It requires flooded areas to grow, and is often found in areas where water levels fluctuate from seasonal changes or tides. It tends to grow in more fertile, less salty waters, so its presence is a good indicator of relative environmental health.
Pickerelweed’s purple flowers appear in late summer and provide food for several pollinators, including butterflies and bees. Its seeds provide food for ducks and muskrats. Seeds that aren’t eaten are submerged and become buried in the wet soil, where they await the next growing season. If the wetland dries out, the seeds can remain buried for a long period, springing to life when the water returns. Pickerelweed can also reproduce asexually through rhizomes that branch out beneath the soil. In such cases, large stands of pickerelweed are made up of clones, rather than unique plants.
The large leaves of pickerelweed provide shade, homes, and hiding places for a wide variety of birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish, including the pickerel that give this plant its name.
Since soils in flooded areas are very low in oxygen (or “hypoxic”), pickerelweed has a spongy structure with air-filled chambers in its stems and leaves called aerenchyma that help oxygen pass into and through the plant rather than being absorbed by its roots. Some of the oxygen held in the aerenchyma actually leaks into the hypoxic soil, supporting the growth of microorganisms critical to the health of wetlands.
Pickerelweed is not endangered, but it is under pressure by shrinking wetlands, poor water quality, increased salinity, and invasive aquatic plants such as purple loosestrife, water hyacinth, and false pickerelweed, which have few native checks to their growth.
With their long, streamlined bodies, short legs, webbed toes, and tapered tails, river otters are perfectly adapted to their largely aquatic life in waterways throughout North America. Their short, thick fur creates a waterproof layer of insulation to protect them from cold. Adult male river otters average 4 feet in length and weigh 20 to 28 pounds. Female adults are a bit smaller. River otters are active day and night, and spend their time feeding, grooming, and in behaviors that are often described as group play, although it may also be a way that the young are trained in hunting and survival behaviors.
River otters are voracious carnivores that catch and eat an amazing array of food items, especially fish such as carp, suckers, bass, trout, and spawning shad and salmon heading upstream. They also hunt freshwater mussels, crabs, crayfish, large aquatic insects, amphibians, even birds and small mammals, particularly those that are injured and easy to catch. The smell and hearing abilities of the river otter are excellent, and its sensitive whiskers allow it to detect prey in murky water. The otter also has a delicate sense of touch, and is very dexterous in the use of its paws.
River otters can be found in ponds, lakes, rivers, sloughs, estuaries, bays, and in open waters along the coast. In more northern areas, they prefer areas that remain ice-free in winter like fast-moving rivers, lake outflows, and waterfalls. They can be found in fresh, brackish, or saltwater habitats, and can travel overland for long distances in search of hunting grounds. River otters are active year round, and, except for females with young in a den, move constantly from place to place. They tend to follow a regular circuit that is covered in one to four weeks. A family group might move up to 25 miles, while solitary males can travel 150 miles within a particular watershed and its tributaries in a year, so otters need large and contiguous habitats to survive.
The most significant impacts on river otter populations include reduced water quality from chemical pollution and soil erosion, and stream-bank habitat alteration by development, which eliminates areas where otters can build dens and raise young. River otters leave and avoid polluted waterways, so the presence of this top-tier predator indicates good water quality and a healthy food chain from bottom to top.
Stonefly is a generic term for a large group of insect species that live around ponds, lakes and rivers. More than 650 species call North America home. They inhabit almost every freshwater aquatic environment, each filling a specific niche as both predator and prey in the varied ecosystems of the watershed. One of their most important roles is as a food source for trout, bass, and other key commercial and recreational fish species higher up the food chain. Fly fisherman often use stonefly larvae as bait.
During the early “nymph” stages of their lives, stonefly larvae are strictly aquatic. They can spend 1 to 2 years in this stage, creeping under submerged rocks and logs in search of algae, plant material, or smaller aquatic invertebrates, depending on whether the particular species is carnivorous or not. When they transform into their adult stages, stonefly larvae crawl out of the water onto stones (hence the name), molt their larval exoskeletons, and emerge as winged adults. Generally, the sole purpose of the adult stage is to reproduce, with female stoneflies laying masses of eggs on the water’s surface. Soon after reproducing, adult stoneflies die.
Adult stoneflies are poor fliers and are often found resting on rocks and logs along the shores of streams or rocky shoals of lakes. All have two sets of clear, delicately veined wings, with body colors that range from dark brown to yellow or, occasionally, green. Some species are nocturnal.
Many species prefer streams, rivers and springs with a brisk current, although some species inhabit the quieter waters of lakes and ponds. Stonefly larvae require clean, well-oxygenated waters to survive, so their presence is a sign that a freshwater ecosystem is healthy. If stoneflies disappear from an area, it’s a sign that water quality has declined and the ecosystem’s health is in serious danger.
*Stonefly Species in Pennsylvania
Family Capniidae (Snowflies)
Aurora Snowfly - Allocapnia aurora
Peculiar Snowfly - Allocapnia curiosa
Evansville Snowfly - Allocapnia frisoni
Common Snowfly - Allocapnia granulata
Stonyfork Snowfly - Allocapnia harperi
Two-knobbed Snowfly - Allocapnia maria
Brook Snowfly - Allocapnia nivicola
St. Lawrence Snowfly - Allocapnia pechumani
Pygmy Snowfly - Allocapnia pygmaea
Eastern Snowfly - Allocapnia recta
Midwest Snowfly - Allocapnia rickeri
Spatulate Snowfly - Allocapnia simmonsi
Shortwing Snowfly - Allocapnia vivipara
Pristine Snowfly - Allocapnia wrayi
Ash Snowfly - Allocapnia zola
Angulate Snowfly - Paracapnia angulate
Family Chloroperlidae - Chloroperlidae (Sallfly)
Aracoma Sallfly - Alloperla aracoma
Atlantic Sallfly - Alloperla atlantica
Ozark Sallfly - Alloperla caudata
Triangular Sallfly - Alloperla chloris
Duckhead Sallfly - Alloperla concolor
Ohio Sallfly (Little Green Stonefly) - Alloperla imbecilla
Woodlands Sallfly - Alloperla petasata
Appalachian Sallfly - Alloperla usa
Scotia Sallfly - Alloperla vostoki
Least Sallfly - Haploperla brevis
Vermont Sallfly - Rasvena terna
York Sallfly - Suwallia marginata
Northeastern Sallfly - suwallia naica
Ontario Sallfly - Sweltsa onkos
Curved Sallfly - Sweltsa lateralis
Family Chloroperlidae - Paraperlinae (Sallflies)
Gaspe Sallfly - Utaperla gaspesiana
Family Leuctridae (Needleflies)
Anakeesta Needlefly - Leuctra alexanderi
Carolina Needlefly - Leuctra carolinensis
Atlantic Needlefly - Leuctra duplicata
Eastern Needlefly - Leuctra ferruginea
Grand Needlefly (Needlefly) - Leuctra grandis
Northeastern Needlefly - Leuctra maria
Brook Needlefly - Leuctra sibleyi
Broad-lobed Needlefly - Leuctra tenella
Narrow-lobed Needlefly - Leuctra tenuis
Truncate Needlefly - Leuctra truncata
Variable Needlefly - Leuctra variabilis
Appalachian Needlefly - Paraleuctra sara
Family Leuctridae – Magaleuctrinae (Needleflies)
Shenandoah Needlefly - Megaleuctra flinti
Family Nemouridae - Amphinemurinae (Forestflies)
Appalachian Forestfly - Amphinemura appalachia
Eastern Forestfly - Amphinemura delosa
Lovely Forestfly - Amphinemura linda
Little Black Forestfly - Amphinemura nigritta
Spiked Forestfly - Amphinemura wui
Family Nemouridae – Nemourinae (Forestflies)
Whitetailed Forestfly - Ostrocerca albidipennis
Notched Forestfly - Ostrocerca complexa
Bent Forestfly - Ostrocerca prolongata
Truncate Forestfly - Ostrocerca truncata
Boreal Forestfly - Paranemoura perfecta
Longhorn Forestfly - Prostoia similis
Carolina Forestfly - Soyedina carolinensis
Powdermill Forestfly - Soyedina merritti
Valley Forestfly - Soyedina vallicularia
Vernal Forestfly - Soyedina washingtoni
Family Peltoperlida (Roachflies)
Appalachian Roachfly - Peltoperla arcuata
Common Roachfly - Tallaperla maria
Family Perlidae - Acroneuriinae (Stones)
Common Stone - Acroneuria abnormis
Eastern Stone - Acroneuria arenosa
Elegant Stone - Acroneuria arida
Carolina Stone - Acroneuria carolinensis
Constricted Stone - Acroneuria evoluta
Illinois Stone - Acroneuria filicis
Central Stone - Acroneuria frisoni
Boreal Stone (Giant Brown Stonefly) - Acroneuria lycorias
Giant Stone - Attaneuria ruralis
Yellow Stone - Eccoptura xanthenes
Appalachian Stone - Hansonoperla applachia
Widespread Stone - Perlesta decipiens
Tiny Stone - Perlesta nitida
Freckled Stone - Perlesta placida
Striped Stone - Perlinella drymo
Vernal Stone - Perlinella ephyre
Family Perlidae – Perlinae (Stones)
Southern Stone - Agnetina annulipes
Northern Stone (Eastern Stonefly) - Agnetina capitata
Midwestern Stone - Agnetina flavescens
Slippery Stone - Neoperla catharae
Atlantic Stone - Neoperla occipitalis
Multispine Stone - Neoperla stewarti
Coastal Stone - Neoperla clymene
Beautiful Stone - Paragnetina immarginata
Embossed Stone - Paragnetina media
Family Perlodidae - Isoperlinae (Stripetails)
Clio Stripetail - Clioperla clio
Two-lined Stripetail (Yellow Sally) - Isoperla bilineata
Sable Stripetail - Isoperla dicala
Northeastern Stripetail - Isoperla francesca
Wisconsin Stripetail - Isoperla frisoni
Pale Stripetail - Isoperla holochlora
Dark Stripetail - Isoperla lata
Midwestern Stripetail - Isoperla marlynia
Montane Stripetail - Isoperla montana
Ozark Stripetail - Isoperla namata
Least Stripetail - Isoperla nana
Colorless Stripetail - Isoperla orata
Sterling Stripetail - Isoperla richardsoni
Transverse Stripetail (Little Brown Stonefly) - Isoperla signata
Black Stripetail - Isoperla similis
Colorful Stripetail - Isoperla slossonae
Boreal Stripetail - Isoperla transmarina
Family Perlodidae - Perlodinae (Springflies)
Great lakes Springfly - Cultus decisus decisus
Spiny Springfly - Cultus verticalis
Twolobed Springfly - Diploperla duplicata
Robust Springfly - Diploperla robusta
Vernal Springfly - Helopicus subvarians
Appalachian Springfly - Isogenoides hansoni
Olive Springfly - Isogenoides olivaceus
Brook Springfly - Malirekus hastatus
Iroquois Springfly - Malirekus iroquois
Lash Springfly - Remenus bilobatus
Frogtown Springfly - Yugus kirchneri
Family Pteronarcyidae (Salmonflies)
Knobbed Salmonfly - Pteronarcys biloba
Spiny Salmonfly - Pteronarcys comstocki
American Salmonfly (Giant Black Stonefly) - Pteronarcys dorsata
Midwestern Salmonfly - Pteronarcys pictetii
Appalachian Salmonfly - Pteronarcys proteus
Carolina Salmonfly - Pteronarcys scotti
Family Taeniopterygidae (Willowflies)
Smoky Willowfly - Bolotoperla rossi
Dark Willowfly - Oemopteryx contorta
Mottled Willowfly (Little Red Stonefly) - Strophopteryx fasciata
Atlantic Willowfly - Taenionema atlanticum
Family Taeniopterygidae (Willowflies)
Eastern Willowfly - Taeniopteryx burksi
Spinyleg Willowfly - Taeniopteryx maura
Shortwing Willowfly - Taeniopteryx metequi
Boreal Willowfly (Early Brown Stonefly) - Taeniopteryx nivalis
Hooked Willowfly - Taeniopteryx parvula
Cumberland Willowfly - Taeniopteryx ugola
From Common Names of Stoneflies (Plecoptera) from the United States and Canada:
Bill P. Stark, Dept. of Biology, Mississippi College, Clinton, MS 39058
Kenneth W. Stewart, Dept. of Biological Sciences, Univ. of North Texas, Denton, TX 76203
Stanley W. Szczytko, College of Natural Resources, Univ. of Wisconsin, Stevens Point, WI 54481
Richard W. Baumann, Dept. of Zoology, Brigham Young Univ., Provo, UT 84602.
Ohio Biological Survey Notes 1:1-18, 1998.
Water bugs, a specific group of insects, play an important role in all freshwater ecosystems. They serve as predators or “piercers” that live off the fluids of aquatic plants, as consumers of algae and leaf litter (thereby cleaning the water), and as prey for a large variety of fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and other insects. Each of the many species of water bugs fills a unique niche in an aquatic ecosystem—feeding on specific foods, living in a particular bit of the environment, and/or providing food for particular species of predators.
Water bugs are air breathers, either living on the surface of the water or coming up to breathe, and so they can exist even in damaged wetland environments where water oxygen is poor. Surface dwelling water bugs are often seen “skating” or “striding” across the water, kept from sinking by water tension and tiny velvety hairs on their abdomens that trap air between them, creating a small cushion on which the water strider floats. Other water bugs, such as the water boatman, use their legs as oars to push themselves through the water. Beneath the surface, water bugs like the water scorpion lie on the bottom or cling to submerged plants and sticks. Water scorpions have a long breathing tube that they can reach to the surface for air like a snorkel, which keeps them away from hungry predators above the water.
Because of their great diversity and population numbers, water bugs and other invertebrates are an indicator of the health of a wetland ecosystem. In general, the more species there are, the healthier and stronger an ecosystem is. Their disappearance from a habitat means trouble for larger species that depend on them as a food source.
Water penny beetles are insects that begin their life cycle as larvae in the ponds and streams of healthy freshwater ecosystems. The tiny water penny larva’s “shell” is actually an exoskeleton—the hard outer part of most insects. It is only 3-10 millimeters in diameter, almost circular, and a copper color. The flat shell completely covers the head, body and legs of the animal, creating the look of a flat penny. These larvae cling to the undersides of logs and rocks, where they use scrapers on their legs to gather algae. They also eat the larvae of other creatures, as well as detritus and feces (poop!) from fish and other animals, contributing to water cleansing. They breathe two ways—with gills on their abdomens, and by extracting oxygen directly from their air through the walls of their bodies.
Water pennies are especially sensitive to the quality of their environment, and can’t survive in places where the rocks have a thick layer of algae, fungi, or sediments—all signs of sickness in a watershed habitat. Finding water penny larvae is a good sign that a freshwater habitat is healthy.
Once it grows to its adult stage, the water penny becomes a land-dwelling insect, leaving its aquatic nursery behind.
Wild celery is one of a variety of plants known as “tape grasses” for their long, flat, ribbon-like leaves. This aquatic plant is found in healthy freshwater ecosystems throughout North America and around the world, including slightly brackish environments such as estuaries, where rivers meet the sea. It grows underwater, where it forms fields of long, swaying grasses that can reach five feet or more in length. These grassy beds form homes, hiding places, and nurseries for crustaceans, gastropods, invertebrates, and fish that attach their eggs to the long leaves. Nearly the entire plant is an important food source for waterfowl such as ducks, geese, and coots.
With deep root systems, wild celery beds stabilize sediment and shorelines, keeping nutrient-rich soil from washing away downstream. Their roots and stems also capture tiny bits of animal and plant matter (or “detritus”) that feed many small animal species, which in turn provide food for larger predators. And, these amazing plants improve water quality by filtering the surrounding water of excess nutrients.
Wild celery can reproduce through seeding, with female plants growing tiny white flowers on the tips of corkscrew stems. These stems coil and uncoil with changing water levels to keep the flowers on the surface, then retract completely to bury the bud in the mud after fertilization. This plant can also grow by sending out runners beneath the muddy surface and sprouting colonies of clones.
640 Water Works Drive (Lower Level)
Philadelphia, PA 19130
HOURS OF OPERATION:
Tuesday – Saturday: 10:00 am – 5:00 pm
Sunday: 1:00 pm – 5:00 pm
WELCOME TO OUR EXPERIMENT.
We have created our demonstration installation and mightymussel.com website to introduce you to the underwater world of freshwater mussels and the important role they play in our shared future.
With the help of a multidisciplinary team of experts, we are putting a theory into practice on a small scale. Through science, art, and new technologies, we demonstrate the extent to which mussels could contribute to the restoration of our degraded freshwater system.
Our goal is to raise awareness about mussels and the vital need for revitalizing and protecting our freshwater systems for the health of all living things— including you and me. There are just a small number of hatcheries elsewhere in the United States, and, with a limited production of mussels, they primarily serve their own waterways. This means that our rivers and streams here in the Delaware River Valley currently do not have much help. The Fairmount Water Works, the Philadelphia Water Department, the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary, and the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University are a consortium of entities working together to establish a large-scale production hatchery in our region. Our goal is to propagate new mussels and boost diminished populations in the Delaware River watershed.
The bottom of rivers, streams, lakes, and ponds are where mussels make their home. Mussels are hard to see because they burrow down and blend in with rocks and leaves. In healthy habitats, mussels live close together and create large mussel “beds.” Healthy beds can have tens of thousands of mussels, with many different species living together in a single acre.
Freshwater mussels are found on every continent except Antarctica, and there are more than 700 species. Nearly 300 of these species live in North America, making us the world’s biodiversity hotspot for freshwater mussels! Unfortunately, over 70% of them are at risk of extinction. Freshwater mussels are one of the most imperiled animals in North America as well as locally in the Delaware River basin.
Historically, over a dozen species were found throughout our streams and lakes. Today, only a few are readily found in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware, and their populations are declining throughout our watershed.
We hope to see you at the Mussel Hatchery soon and often but in the meantime, we have created a series of activities for you to take a deeper dive into the life and times of a freshwater mussel. Enjoy!
Rivers are the most vital source of fresh water. Almost every community on Earth, from the Gold Coast of Australia to the City of Philadelphia, is strengthened by clean and dependable river systems. The Delaware River and its largest tributary, the Schuylkill River, have supported human settlement since at least the early 16th century, when the fishing camps of the Lenni Lenape were first documented. These rivers continue to be at the center of Philadelphia’s growth, accommodating both our basic needs and our ever-evolving aspirations.
If we tried to contain all of the water on Earth, including underground aquifers and wells, we would need approximately 326 million trillion gallon buckets! After all, seventy-one percent of our planet is covered by water. Most of it, however, is saltwater and unsuitable for human use. Fresh water is less than 3% of the planet’s water and the majority, close to 70%, is locked away in ice. Moving water, like the Schuylkill River, is relatively scarce and yet we depend on it for our very survival.
Today, the Delaware River watershed provides drinking water for more than 15 million people! This is approximately 5 percent of the U.S. population. It is an economic powerhouse, providing abundant opportunity estimated at $25 billion annually.
The Delaware River is the longest undammed river east of the Mississippi. Before reaching the Atlantic Ocean, the Delaware flows freely for approximately 330 miles. It includes all of the lands and waterways that drain into the Delaware River, starting in New York and flowing to the Delaware Bay. The Schuylkill River is a major contributor to the Delaware Estuary. One-quarter of the Schuylkill’s watershed is designated as high quality or exceptional waters. The river and its tributaries have long been recognized for the important roles they play as a fish habitat and as a source of Philadelphia’s drinking water. This river system is home to thousands of plant and animal species unique to our region. Many are in peril, like the freshwater mussels in our hatchery.
Our rivers are gateways to Philadelphia, bridging the past and the future. How we care for them is a reflection of us, our innovation and our commitment to the natural world. They provide the majority of fresh water available for our everyday needs. Protection of our rivers is essential to a shared future.