Today is World Wetlands Day! These areas provide a myriad of functions to the environment around them, including filtering and storing water (much in the way that kidneys do for us!), collecting flood waters, and providing a habitat to a large number of wildlife and plants. There are more than a few animals that call different wetlands home here in the Pacific Northwest.
These shrimp are primarily found in California but were also discovered in vernal pools in Jackson County, Oregon (north of Medford, OR) in 1998. Vernal pools, their namesake, are seasonal wetlands that are filled with water during the fall and winter seasons and dry up during spring and summer. These shrimp are translucent and tiny crustaceans, usually less than 1 inch (2.5cm) in length. They swim by using their 11 pairs of swimming legs and eat algae and plankton!
The North American River Otter is actually the only river otter found north of Mexico and spends most of its time in bodies of fresh water (i.e. streams, lakes, wetlands) along marine coasts in the United States and Canada, including parts of the Pacific Northwest.
These otters are opportunist eaters but primarily eat fish like carp and mud minnows, freshwater mussels, amphibians, bird/fish eggs, birds (usually injured ducks or geese), and more. They’ve also been known to take advantage of nearby salmon runs! Unlike sea otters (their similar but seagoing cousins), river otters spend time in fresh, brackish, or salt water and have been known to travel on land for significant distances.
- Rescued sea otter pup finds new home at Oregon Zoo by Kale Williams, OregonLive
I’ve written about Western Pond Turtles before on this blog but these endangered turtles have also been known to live in aquatic habitats like wetlands. Like river otters, they’re not fully aqautic and often spend time basking in the sun on rocks or logs. Some have also spent part of the year in upland forests. These turtles can grow up to 10 inches in length and their head, legs, and top shell are usually a dark brown to olive color.
Beavers have a bit of an interesting public perception. On one hand, there are many who get annoyed with the large rodent’s ability to cut down trees and have gone as far as to issue death sentences to many of these creatures. But on the other hand, Canada has gone as far as to designate the beaver as it’s national animal. Despite the conflicting public perception, these creatures are incredibly important in their environment and are found in part of the Pacific Northwest and many other areas. Beavers are actually the largest rodents in North America and are usually a dark, reddish brown color. That color can vary but these animals all have a very distinctive tail. These tails may get up to 15 inches long and 6 inches wide and is very useful both on land and in water.
- Why Canada Matters On World Wetlands Day by Dan Kraus, HuffPost
Their large, sharp front incisors help beavers eat the leaves, inner bar, and twigs of deciduous trees like alders, birch, and cottonwood. These teeth also help beavers cut down trees to use for building dams in many areas. These dams are used to flood areas and allow for beavers to be protected from predators and as a way for them to access underwater entrances to dens. Many of these dams provide a natural wetland area around small creeks and streams that are incredibly beneficial to the surrounding environment and wildlife.
These are just four of the many animals that rely on wetlands in the Pacific Northwest. But with growing development, urbanization, and agricultural areas, many of these wetland areas are shrinking or gone completely. Hundreds of thousands of wetlands acreage have been lost over the years in the United States. One study found that an average of 80,000 acres was lost in the US from 2004 to 2009 and there are studies suggesting that we can’t keeping losing these vital areas.
There are ways to help the wetlands that still exist in your community, like picking up dog poop in your yard and on walks or advocating for protecting these areas. To learn how to best help, here are some great resources:
- What you can do (Coastal Wetlands: Too Valuable to Lose) from NOAA Fisheries
- What you can do to help wetlands from Defenders of Wildlife
- You can help from America’s Wetland Foundation