Rivers are freshwater habitats that over 100,000 plants and animals call home. In the U.S, the Mississippi River alone has over 120 fish species in its waters. However, fish aren’t the only animals that live in rivers. There are plenty of other species, including some that have developed unique tricks to stay underwater. Read on for a list of 12 animals that live in rivers and some interesting facts about them.
12 animals that live in rivers
Here is a random list of 12 animals calling rivers their homes. While some you may expect, others on this list might surprise you!
1. Red-eared slider turtle
Scientific name: Trachemys scripta elegans
You’ve probably seen a red-eared slider turtle before. These freshwater turtles are popular long-term pets that can live up to 20 years. They have olive to brown top shells, yellow bottom shells, and a distinctive red stripe behind their eyes.
These turtles originated near the Mississippi River and can be found from Colorado to Florida and Virginia. They spend most of their time in the water, only emerging to bask in the sun on logs and rocks.
2. American alligators
Scientific name: Alligator mississippiensis
American alligators live in the southeastern U.S., especially Florida and Louisiana’s rivers, swamps, and marshes. These great swimmers use their webbed feet and strong tails to propel them through the water. They are also large, growing between 10 to 15 feet long and weighing up to 1,000 pounds.
3. Blue crab
Scientific name: Callinectes sapidus
While you may associate blue crabs with the Chesapeake Bay, there’s actually plenty of these crabs in the Hudson River as well. They are omnivorous creatures that eat both animals and plants and have a cool defense mechanism against predators. They can look backward easily to spot danger and release their leg if they get caught by a predator – the limb will grow back over time.
4. Freshwater eel
Scientific name: Anguilla rostrata
The freshwater eel, also known as the American eel, is slender, olive-green to brown, and snakelike, with very small scales. Females can grow up to 3 feet, with males typically maxing out at 1.5 feet. These eels will swim from the Gulf of Mexico up the Mississippi River to reproduce in Minnesota. When not migrating, they prefer large streams with muddy bottoms and objects to hide in during the day.
5. Belted crayfish
Scientific name: Faxonius harrisonii
Belted crayfish are beautiful tan creatures with reddish-brown and olive-green bands on their bodies. They can live in large rivers or medium-sized creeks but prefer waters with a permanent flow and coarse rock substrates, such as the Meramec River in Missouri. These crayfish hunt at night and hide under rocks during the daytime.
6. Blue catfish
Scientific name: Ictalurus furcatus
Sometimes called the hump-back blue or channel cat, the blue catfish is the largest catfish species in North America. They can weigh up to 100 pounds, with the record caught fish weighing 124 pounds. These fish get their names from the whisker-like sensory organ on their chin called barbels.
Their barbels have taste buds that help them find food, even in dark waters and despite poor eyesight. They prefer to live in large river basins with swift currents and sandy bottoms, such as the Mississippi, Missouri, and Ohio River drainages.
7. Common otter
Scientific name: Lontra canadensis
The common otter, or northern river otter, is semiaquatic living in burrows close to the water’s edge with at least one opening that lets them easily enter into rivers. These otters spend most of their time in the water, where they play and find food. They can dive up to 330 feet, and hold their breath for up to 8 minutes.
8. Chain pickerel
Scientific name: Esox niger
Chain pickerel are the smallest game fish of the pike family but still grow up to 3 feet long and weigh 7 pounds or more. If you fish them, they are aggressive once hooked and will fight to get away. They get their name from the chain-like markings on their lighter green body.
These fish are also known as jackpike or chainsides and are active in the winter, swimming under the ice. You can find them in the Mississippi River, rivers along the Atlantic coast, and the Gulf drainages such as the Red River in Texas.
9. Brazos water snake
Scientific name: Nerodia harteri
Brazos water snakes, commonly called Harter’s water snakes, are named after the Brazos River they inhabit. These nonvenomous snakes enjoy rocky and fast-flowing water habitats with flat rocks for hiding. They are brownish with mixes of gray or green and have dark spots throughout their body.
The Brazos water snake is named after the Brazos River, and is found in Texas.
10. River frog
Scientific name: Lithobates heckscheri
River frogs thrive in aquatic habitats with vegetations since females will lay floating masses of eggs among the greenery. You can typically find them in the southeastern U.S., including Florida, Mississippi, and southern North Carolina. They have wrinkled and rough blackish-green skin with dark gray marks.
11. Diving bell spider
Scientific name: Argyroneta aquatica
The diving bell spider, or water spider, is one of the only known spider species that live entirely underwater. They survive underwater by trapping a bubble of air at the surface that they submerge into the water and fasten with silk. You’ll see them eating, resting, and reproducing in these air bubbles.
These spiders prefer slow-moving streams and rivers with relatively low pH, where they prey on aquatic insects and crustaceans. They have fangs inflicting extremely painful bites that can cause inflammation and fevers.
12. Pink river dolphin
Scientific name: Inia geoffrensis
You might not associate dolphins with freshwater rivers, but the pink river dolphin is a species found in some rivers of South America and Asia. They are unique-looking due to their pale pink coloring, bulbous head, and long snouts. To orient themselves, they send out high-frequency clicks to use echolocation – a skill that helps them survive even if they are blind.