Freshwater habitat facts
Looking at pictures of Earth from space, it seems like it is covered in water. It’s everywhere! Even though 70% of the planet is covered in water, only about 3% is fresh. That means we can drink, bathe, or use it for farming.
Clean, fresh water is a luxury in many parts of the world. But, without clean, fresh water, people can quickly become will. Which shows how essential freshwater habitats are.
What are they?
A Freshwater habitat definition is any body of water with a very low salt content. This habitat makes up less than 0.01% of the planet’s surface but supports over 100,000 species. That includes fish, worms, frogs, newts, birds, mammals, and amphibians.
Freshwater habitats are places with lots of water and plant life. They are found in three types, ponds/lakes, rivers and streams, and swamps/wetland areas. Different animals and plants prefer each type.
Where are they?
Ponds and lakes can be found worldwide, from Canada to Peru and China to Spain. They form where the ground is lower and can collect water. Likewise, rivers run worldwide; 177 ‘large’ rivers run throughout the Earth (including the Nile and the Amazon Rivers).
Two-thirds of the world’s freshwater is locked in glaciers at the North and South Poles. We cannot use this water in such a harsh environment.
Types of freshwater habitat
Freshwater habitats have a very low salt content compared to the oceans and seas. Often, freshwater rivers will eventually run into the sea, where the water is made salty. A habitat definition for freshwater habitats would include three types:
Ponds and lakes
Pounds and lakes are called lentic ecosystems, meaning they have still or standing waters, not moving like rivers or streams.
The temperature of lakes can change depending on where they are and what time of year it is. In tropical areas, the lakes have a fairly constant temperature but get much colder as you go deeper into the water. Lakes in the Northern Hemisphere can be very cold or much warmer, depending on the season. It affects the type of wildlife that will live in it.
What animals live in freshwater? – Ponds and lakes
Ponds and lakes are home to much fascinating wildlife, including plankton, crayfish, frogs, turtles, fishes, otters, and many species of birds. Some of the animals that live in freshwater ponds and lakes are:
- Aquatic Salamander
The Aquatic Salamander, also known as the Axolotl, is a type of reptile found worldwide but most commonly in ponds and lakes along the Atlantic coast. These creatures live on the bottom of lakes and ponds, where their carnivorous diet consists primarily of insects, worms and snails, spiders, and slugs.
This type of fish can be found living in many different types of freshwater environments worldwide. Like Salamanders, they tend to live and feed down at the bottom of the water and enjoy hiding among rocks and weeds. However, Bass are omnivorous and are not picky about what they eat. These fish will eat almost anything, from rubbish thrown into the water to small creatures and plants.
Crayfish live in a bunch of different habitats around the world. These crustaceans live in streams, rivers, ponds, lakes, marshes, and swamps. In terms of diet, crayfish eat a lot of dead animal carcasses, as well as a range of plants, insects, and other invertebrates. Strangely, crayfish are cannibalistic and have been known to eat their species.
Rivers and streams
Rivers and streams are often called lotic ecosystems, meaning they have flowing water. Unlike lakes, this biome can vary drastically in size. From tiny trickling streams in woodland areas to mile-wide rivers that travel thousands of miles.
Lots of things can affect how a river develops:
- Flow: this is how strong the flow of the river is and how much water moves through the river.
- Light: this affects the types of animals and plants that will live in or near the water.
- Temperature: If a river moves from a hot to a cold region, this will affect the types of animals in each section.
What animals live in freshwater? – Rivers and streams
Rivers and streams are teeming with wildlife, some of which you would expect and some that will come as more of a surprise. Some of these animals live in freshwater some of the time and spend the rest of their lives on land. However, some animals spend their entire lives in the water.
Some of the animals that live in freshwater rivers and streams are as follows:
The otter is one of the most common freshwater animals in the United Kingdom. These cute little creatures were, at one point, at risk of extinction in the UK as a lot of their habitat was destroyed during the Industrial Revolution. However, after many conservation efforts, otters can now be found in rivers and streams throughout the country.
Otters are amazing predators, with fish being their choice of prey. Their genetic makeup allows them to be super-efficient swimmers and fish hunters. However, unlike a lot of other mammals that live in water habitats and eat fish, otters aren’t great at holding their breath underwater, and so can only dive for 30 seconds,
Another vital figure in the British rivers and streams is the beaver. Like otters, beavers were once at risk of extinction because they were heavily hunted for their many natural assets, including their fur and scent sacs. Thankfully, the number of beavers in Britain has slowly but surely been increasing.
Regarding habitat, beavers build great dams, which greatly benefit the surrounding wildlife and environment.
- American Alligators
American alligators can be found in the South-Eastern regions of the United States, particularly in the freshwater rivers, swamps, and marshes of Florida and Louisiana. Alligators are fantastic swimmers thanks to their webbed feet and strong tails that help them move through the water. Unfortunately, they are also famously fierce predators with sharp teeth and strong jaws. Their diet consists primarily of fish, invertebrates, frogs, birds, and mammals.
American alligators are one of the biggest animals that live in freshwater, growing between 3 meters and 4.5 meters long and weighing around 453 kg.
- Freshwater Eel
This scary-looking creature, also known as the American eel, has an olive-green/brown body and an almost snake-like appearance. This animal lives in freshwater rivers. Female freshwater eels can grow up to 90 cm, and males only grow to around 46 cm. These eels journey from the Gulf of Mexico up the Mississippi River to Minnesota, where they reproduce. When they’re not on the move, freshwater eels reside in large streams with muddy floors and many objects to hide in throughout the day.
River plants vary wildly depending on how fast the river or stream moves.
The wetland biome is a combination of both still water and land. You can think of it as land that has become so saturated with water that it can’t soak into the ground anymore and forms pools on the surface.
Wetlands include bogs, swamps, and marshes. They are often near large lakes or rivers (which can be their water source). Although they play an essential role in nature, wetlands can prevent flooding from rivers like the River Nile. They can also purify water as it moves through the soil and rocks.
What animals live in freshwater? – Wetlands biome
Loads of amazing mammals, birds, fish, amphibians, and more can be found in wetlands worldwide. Some animals that live in freshwater wetlands include frogs and newts, reptiles, alligators, and deer. Some other wetland creatures are:
Eighteen species of bats can be found in the wetlands of the United Kingdom. Bats feed primarily on insects, which the wetlands have in heaps. They fly 2 to 10 meters above the ground, scouring the earth for food.
Cranes are another type of animal that can be found in wetlands. These huge birds are hard to miss as they are loud, friendly creatures. They have a pretty varied diet, consuming plants like seeds, nuts, acorns, leaves, berries, and fruit, as well as a range of animals, including insects, birds, reptiles, mammals, snails, frogs, and more.
Wetland plants can grow entirely underwater or float on top of the water.
Freshwater habitat facts
- Even if a river or stream dries up, some animals might continue living there by burrowing into the ground until the water returns.
- Scientists that study freshwater habitats are called Limnologists.
- The largest lake in the world is known as the Caspian Sea.
- The longest river in the world is the Nile River.