Great Lakes Animals

The Great Lakes ecosystem is the largest freshwater ecosystem in the world (288,000 square miles) with 5,000 tributaries and 9,000 miles of shoreline.

Fish species of special interest within the ecosystem include:

The Great Lakes ecosystem provides important migration corridors and critical breeding, feeding, and resting areas for numerous species of migratory and resident birds - especially waterfowl, colonial nesting birds, and neotropical migrants including:

Endangered & Threatened Species

Bald Eagle

Native only to North America, the bald eagle is second only to the California condor in size as a wild bird of prey. Adult bald eagles have a snow white head and tail, brownish-black body, long heavy yellow beak, and wingspan that can exceed seven feet. The head, tail, and body of immature eagles, however, is brownish; while in flight, they show white on the underside of the interior of their wings. It takes up to five years for immature eagles to attain full adult plumage. Bald eagles feed on both live and dead fish, waterfowl, muskrats, squirrels, groundhogs, and a variety of road-killed animals; some eagles learn to “pirate” freshly killed fish away from ospreys and dead fish from crows. The Lake Erie region harbors the most significant populations of bald eagles in Ohio, although they may be found statewide. Bald eagles build massive nests, usually in forks of tall trees. Males and females form long-term pair bonds, but will replace a mate quickly if one of the pair is lost. Bald eagles provide an example of both the negative and positive effects that human activities can have on wildlife. For instance, in 1975 and 1979, there were record lows of only four nesting pairs of wild bald eagles in Ohio. However, as a result of the combined positive effects of federal restrictions on pesticide use, wetland habitat protection, and vigorous reestablishment efforts by the ODNR Division of Wildlife, the state has been recording a steady increase in the number of breeding pairs of bald eagles since 1979. In 2004, there were 108 known nests in the state.*
Piping Plover

The Piping Plover is a small, sand-colored, sparrow-sized shorebird that nests and feeds along coastal sand and gravel beaches in North America. The adult has yellow-orange legs, a black band across the forehead from eye to eye, and a black ring around the neck. This chest band is usually thicker in males during the breeding season, and it's the only reliable way to tell the sexes apart. It is difficult to see when standing still as it blends well with open, sandy beach habitats. It typically runs in short starts and stops. The bird's name is derived from its bell-like whistles which are often heard before the bird is visible. Their breeding habitat includes beaches or sand flats on the Atlantic coast, the shores of the Great Lakes, and in the mid-west of Canada and the United States. They nest on sandy or gravel beaches or shoals. These shorebirds forage for food on beaches, usually by sight, moving across the beaches in short bursts. Generally, Piping Plovers will forage for food around the high tide wrack zone and along the waters edge. They mainly eat insects, marine worms, and crustaceans.**

Canada Lynx

The Canada Lynx is a North American mammal of the cat family with a dense silvery-brown coat, ruffed face and tufted ears. It is larger than the bobcat, with which it shares parts of its range, and over twice the size of the domestic cat. The Canada Lynx is a secretive and mostly nocturnal animal, although it may be active at any time of day. They shelter in areas of particularly dense forest. The cat tends to stay within a hundred yards of the treeline, but does not shy away from swimming. Canada lynx use scent marking to indicate their territory. Adults typically deposit faeces on top of the snow or on tree stumps and other prominent sites, and frequently spray urine to mark their range. Canada lynx feed predominantly on snowshoe hares. The breeding season in Canada lynx lasts only for a month, ranging from March to May, depending on the local climate. The female attracts a mate by leaving some of her urine where the male has marked his territory, and by repeated calling. Mating can occur six times in one hour. The female lynx will only mate with one male each season, but the male may mate with multiple females. Before birth, the female prepares a maternal den, usually in very thick brush. Litters contain from one to eight cubs. The mother brings the food to her cubs and allows them to play with it before eating it, training their hunting skills.*
Gray Wolf

The gray wolf was once abundant but now inhabits a reduced portion of its former range due to widespread destruction of its territory, human encroachment and hunting. Gray wolves are social predators that live in families of a mated pair, offspring and, occasionally, adopted family members. Mated pairs usually remain together for life. They primarily feed on hoofed animals, which they hunt by wearing them down in short chases. The gray wolf shares a common ancestry with the domestic dog. Gray wolves are slender, powerfully built animals with large, deeply descending ribcages and sloping backs. Wolves are very strong for their size. They can run at speeds of 34–38 miles per hour, and can continue running for more than 20 minutes. Wolves are highly territorial animals. Wolves communicate vocally and through facial expressions, tail positions and scent. Wolves howl to assemble the pack, to pass on an alarm, to locate each other during a storm or unfamiliar territory and to communicate across great distances.*

Lake Erie Water Snake

The Lake Erie water snake is a large, nonvenomous, well-known snake that is native to North America. They are active during the day and at night. They are most often seen basking on rocks, stumps, or brush. During the day, they hunt among plants at the water's edge, looking for small fish, frogs, worms, leeches, crayfish, salamanders, small birds and mammals. At night, they concentrate on minnows and other small fish sleeping in shallow water. They mate from April through June and are ovoviviparous (live-bearers);they do not lay eggs like most snakes. Instead, they carry them inside their bodies and give birth to baby snakes. A female may have as many as thirty young at a time. Babies are born between August and October. Mothers do not care for their young; as soon as they are born, they are on their own.*

Copperbelly Water Snake

Copperbelly water snakes have a solid dark (usually black) back with a bright orange-red belly. They grow 3 to 5 feet long. They are not poisonous. Copperbellies live in lowland swamps or other warm, quiet waters. The snakes feed on frogs, tadpoles, crayfish, and small fish. Adults have been observed hunting in small groups. Prey is caught in water and on land, often far from wetlands. The snakes find food in the woods after the late spring rains, especially if there is a high water table, cover items and chimney crayfish burrows. Rivers, farm ditches, small streams, rocky areas and any fast-moving waters are avoided.*
Karner Blue Butterfly

Wild lupine is the sole larval food source of the Karner Blue butterfly. The butterfly's life cycle consists of four parts: egg, larva (caterpillar), pupa and adult. Eggs laid by Karner blue butterflies in late summer overwinter and hatch in mid to late April. The average lifespan of adult Karner blue butterflies is 3 to 5 days. Karner blue caterpillars benefit from a co-operation relationship with ants. They communicate with the ants using vibrations and chemical signals. The ants provide protection to the caterpillars and they in turn gather honeydew (a sugar-rich sticky liquid.) Butterflies are important as pollinators for some plants. They move pollen over great distances.**

Mitchell's Satyr Butterfly

There are only a few Mitchell's satyr butterfly populations left. They fly for about 10 days in late June, early July. They fly slowly with a bobbing sort of flight about a foot off of the ground. Females lay a single egg on grass, or multiple eggs on the underside of small forb seedlings. Butterflies sense the air for scents, wind and nectar using their antennae which come in various shapes and colors. Vision is well developed and most are sensitive to the ultraviolet spectrum. Many maintain territories and chase other species away. A butterfly's sense of taste is by receptors on the feet, used to determine whether offspring will be able to feed on a leaf before eggs are laid on it.**

Hine's Emerald Dragonfly

The Hine's Emerald Dragonfly is extremely rare. The only known populations occur at small sites in northern Michigan, northeastern Illinois, Wisconsin and Missouri. Dragonflies are some of the fastest insects in world. The have been recorded flying at nearly 60 miles per hour. Dragonflies have large, multifaceted eyes, two pairs of strong transparent wings, and an elongated body. Dragonflies are valuable predators that eat mosquitoes, and other small insects like flies, bees, ants, and very rarely butterflies. They are usually found around lakes, ponds, streams and wetlands because their larvae, known as "nymphs", are aquatic. Dragonflies possess six legs (like any other insect), but most of them cannot walk well.**

White Cat's Paw Pearly Mussel

Freshwater mussels live in freshwater, as opposed to saltwater. Although the majority of species of mussels live in the sea, a number of different families live in freshwater (and in some cases in brackish water). Habitats for freshwater mussels vary from very small ditches and ponds, to lakes, canals, and rivers. Freshwater mussels are a source of pearls and mother of pearl.**

* = Federally-listed threatened species
** = Federally-listed endangered species

Kirtland's Warbler

Kirtland's Warbler is a small songbird of the New World warbler family, named after Jared P. Kirtland, an Ohio doctor and amateur naturalist. Nearly extinct just 50 years ago, it is on its way to recovery. It requires large areas of dense young jack pine for its breeding habitat. This habitat was historically created by wildfire, but today is primarily created through the harvest of mature jack pine, and planting of jack pine seedlings. Almost the entire population spends the spring and summer in the northeastern Lower Peninsula of Michigan and winters in The Bahamas. These birds have bluish-brown upper body parts with dark streaks on the back and yellow underparts with streaked flanks. They have thin wing bars, dark legs and a broken white eye ring. Females and juveniles are browner on the back. They frequently bob their tails. Their song is a loud chip-chip-chip-too-too-weet-weet, often sung from the top of a snag (dead tree) or northern pin oak clump.**