Habitat Needs of Wetland Species

Habitat for

Great Blue Heron: Nest in communities. Prefer high trees, will nest in shrubs and on the ground if limited accessibility to predators. Nesting sites are chosen near water. Nest are from 30-40 inches across. Principal food is fish, also eats amphibians, snakes, small birds, small rodents, large insects, and nuphar seeds. Fishes by standing in shallow water and waiting for fish to come near enough to strike with the bill. Commercially valued for tourism and feathers.

Virginia Rail: Nests in cattails making a nest sling above the water, or on occasion, in salt water marshes. When nesting on ground makes a nest tower 7-8 inches high of grasses and reeds. Newly hatched chicks leave the nest when threatened following the mother to hide in dense plant growth surrounding the nest. Food is amphibians, micro invertebrates in the water, worms, insects, slugs, snails, small fish and crayfish. Economically valued for tourism.

Blue Claw Crab: Blue crabs mate in the brackish or slightly salty waters of Chesapeake Bay. Shortly after mating, mature females migrate to the saltier waters of the bay near the ocean. Adult males and immature females remain in the brackish waters of the bay and its tributaries. The newly-hatched larvae, called zoea, are microscopic in size and drift with water currents. After approximately 6 or 7 molts, the zoea changes into a post-larval form known as megalops. The megalop has claws like a crab, but can swim and crawl on the bottom. Eventually the megalops settle and metamorphoses to the first crab stage which looks much like an adult crab, but is only 1/5 of an inch from point to point. As these young crabs develop, they migrate away from high salinity areas to brackish riparian wetlands of rivers. As winter approaches, most crabs will bury themselves in the mud and shallow grassbeds of the bay.

These grassbeds are dependent on wetlands to clean sediment from water coming off the land. Grasslands can become buried under silt when there is no filtration by wetlands. Wetlands also take up nutrients in water running off the land, reducing algae blooms that cut off sunlight needed for photosynthesis by grass beds. These algae blooms die and decay, creating anoxic zones killing stationary wildlife like oysters and mussels.

In the zoea stage, crabs eat algae. At the megalop stage, they eat fish larvae, small shellfish, and aquatic plants. Adult blue crabs eat mollusks as their primary food sources. Other food includes dead and live fish, other crabs, shrimp, benthic (bottom dwelling) macroinvertebrates, organic debris, and roots, shoots, and leaves of aquatic vegetation. Mollusks depend on clean water for growth, as eggs can be smothered under sediment loads from floods if there are no wetlands filtering water coming off the land. The blue claw crab is one of the major commercial shellfish.

Menhaden Fish: The overwhelming majority of menhaden catches come from the Chesapeake Bay where sea grass beds and marshes provide cover and water filtration respectively. Menhaden is one of the most abundant species of finfish in estuarine and coastal Atlantic waters, and one of the most sought after by humans. Adult menhaden are herbivores eating several species of phytoplankton (plant plankton) and plant detritus (broken down plant fibers, usually from upstream wetlands) and, in turn are fed upon by many commercially important predatory fish such as striped bass and bluefish. They are fed on also by birds popular with birders and photographer, such as herons, osprey and eagles. Commercially, the poultry industry is currently the largest user of menhaden. Menhaden are also used by the swine, pet food, and cattle industries. Menhaden oil has been used for many years as an edible oil in Europe, and it is gaining popularity as a source of Omega 3 acids in margarine in the United States. Menhaden are also used as bait for commercial and recreational fishing.

BaltimoreChecker Spot Butterfly: In many regions, turtlehead (Chleone glabra) is the only plant the female Baltimore checkerspot will use to lay eggs. Eggs are deposited in masses of several hundred on the underside turtlehead leaves. Newly hatched larvae migrate to the tops of the turtlehead plants where they spin webs and feed gregariously. In late summer, the larvae stop feeding and add substantially to the web. This thickened web can be found a foot or two off of the ground around turtlehead stalks. This is actually a pre-hibernation web where the larvae spend late summer and early autumn. In fall, when the stems die and fall to the ground, the larvae move out of the web and into the leaf litter at the base of the plants where they overwinter.

In spring, hibernation ends and the caterpillars resume feeding. Although they still feed on turtlehead, these larvae also feed on marsh plants in the same family as turtlehead. They may feed on other wetland plants such as ash and false fox glove if there is limited turtlehead.

By early June, the larvae again cease feeding and pupate. Commercially important for tourism and as a flower pollinator.

Zebra Swallowtail Butterfly: The zebra swallowtail butterfly is only found near pawpaw or its relatives growing away from structures and people. In the Washington, DC area, larvae depend on the pawpaws. Females select young leaves to lay their eggs on. When hatched, the larvae feed on the leaves. This requirement for new leaves may limit reproduction of zebra swallowtails. New growth on the pawpaws may be stimulated by the defoliation action of the pyralid moth, which also eats pawpaw leaves. As a result the abundance of zebra swallowtails may be dependent on abundance of the pyralid moths to stimulate new growth as much as on the abundance of pawpaws. Commercially important for tourism and as a flower pollinator.

Pawpaw tree A small tree, foul scented when bruised, with elongated oval shaped leaves. No commercial lumber importance, however the banana shaped fruit are being cultivated as a crop in some parts of the country with some success. Grows in light shade of rich damp woods, often along streams and low spots along rivers.

“Pawpaw… trees often exist in clumps or thickets. This may result from root suckering or seedlings developing from fruits that dropped to the ground from an original seedling tree. In sunny locations, trees typically assume a pyramidal habit, straight trunk and lush, dark green, long, drooping leaves that turn gold and brown in color during the fall. Flowers emerge before leaves in mid spring. The blossoms occur singly on previous year's wood and may reach up to 5 cm in diameter. Flowers … require cross pollination although some trees may be self-compatible. Pollination may be by flies and beetles which is consistent with the presentation appearance of the flower: dark, meat-colored petals and a fetid aroma. Fruit set in the wild is usually low and may be pollinator or resource-limited, but under cultivation tremendous fruit loads have been observed. Fruits are oblong-cylindric berries that are typically 3 to 15 cm long, 3 to 10 cm wide and weigh from 200 to 400 g. They may be borne singly or in clusters which resemble the "hands" of a banana plant (Musa spp.). This highly aromatic, climacteric fruit has a ripe taste that resembles a creamy mixture of banana, mango, and pineapple. Shelf-life of a tree-ripened fruit stored at room temperature is 2 to 3 days. With refrigeration, fruit can be held up to 3 weeks while maintaining good eating quality.” (Lane, 1995)

Commercially important as a potential food crop, ornamental landscape plant, and as habitat for butterflies.

Turtlehead: An herbaceous flowering plant in the snapdragon family. Produces flower spike in fall that are white tinged with purple or pink at the lips. Leaves are long and narrow. Grows in light shade of wet woods with considerable local variation. Important as a landscape plant and habitat for butterflies.

Nuphar An ancient species with a yellow flower that resembles a cross between a lotus and waterlily, and large wedge shaped leaves on erect stems. The plant may be the common ancestor of the water lily and lotus and is commercially important as a landscape plant.


Last updated: April 10, 2015

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