The middle of the Wicomico River is filled with freshwater marshes. Because the water here is not as salty as the water further down the river and it flows faster than the upper river, there are many different species here. Although species such as barred owls and wood ducks can be seen anywhere in the Wicomico River, species such as muskrats specifically reside in marshes. The food web below is a simplified example of one of the many food webs that occur within the Wicomico River marshes. The black arrows show the energy flow from a species to its predator. To see how this food web is disrupted by an invasive species, click here.
1. Cattails (Typha latifolia) Cattails are a plant that can be found in nearly any freshwater marsh and grow up to ten feet high. They are often found in dense clumps due to their roots which grow horizontally underground. The brown flower is the female part that holds all of the seeds while the white part above it is the male. Cattails are eaten by muskrats, blue gill fish, crayfish, and more. Cattails are critical for the habitat of muskrats, deer, rabbits, and many other species because they use cattails as cover. Although important in its native ecosystem of the Wicomico this can be considered an invasive species elsewhere. The type of cattail on the Wicomico River today is often a mix between the native and European variation.
5. Largemouth Bass (Micropterus salmoides) Largemouth bass are virtually the top of this native food chain. Once they are adults they are exposed to few threats besides fisherman. They eat a large variety of species based on their age. Young bass will consume anything as small as insect larva while the largest will consume shad and perch. Average size bass eat bluegill, snakes, snails, and even small birds. Because they are such great sportfish in their native habitat, people attempted to introduce them elsewhere. Unfortunately, this resulted in largemouth bass being deemed invasive in various other countries.
2. Muskrats (Ondatra zibethicus) Muskrats are semi-aquatic rodents that inhabit wetlands. Their tail is generally the same length as their body, individually averaging one foot. Muskrats have a varied diet that includes snails, bluegills and small fish along with a large variety of plants. These plants, which include cattail, pickerel weed, yellow pond lily, and arrow arum, are the same plants used to build their lodges. The amount of vegetation that muskrats destroy at once often creates small areas of shallow water that benefit many species and increase biodiversity. Muskrats have a large number of predators including bald eagles, snapping turtles, snakes, largemouth bass, and owls.
6. Wood ducks (Aix sponsa) Wood ducks are one of the most easily identified ducks. Although males share the same green heads as mallards, they are more tan than yellow. Females are differentiated by the white design around their eyes. Wood ducks, unlike most ducks, are actually capable of perching as well as flying over thirty miles an hour. Although they can be found in marshes, they prefer wooded swamps because they provide more potential perching and nesting sites. The majority of what they consume is plants such as the yellow pond lily seeds, but they will still eat snails, insects, and crayfish. They have a rather large number of predators including barred owls, snakes, bald eagles, foxes, snapping turtles, and bass. They are also a commonly hunted species.
3. Eastern Snapping Turtles(Chelydra serpentina serpentina) Snapping turtles only live in brackish or fresh water, which is where they spend nearly all of their time. They can weigh up to thirty five pounds and grow to be approximately twenty inches long. Their diet includes cray fish, toads, frogs, aquatic insects, and juvenile fish. Left alone in nature as adults, they still suffer from unnatural causes such as being hit by cars. The eggs, which are far more vulnerable, are attacked by great blue herons, foxes, snakes, and even larger turtles. A snapping turtle would eat a juvenile largemouth bass, and the bass will attack the turtle's eggs. The turtles who succesfully hatch average a life of thirty years. To learn more about turtles and other similar species, visit our herps page.
7. Humans (Homo sapiens) Humans are at the top of the food web. Despite having all the qualities of an invasive species, they also help and protect other species. They've destroyed entire wetland ecosystems through processes such a dredging, for economic purposes as well as personal habitat. Yet, they have also preserved land, removed invasive species,and protected those that are endangered. They fish largemouth bass, yet they throw Christmas trees in the water ever year to create good fish habitat and guarantee their return. They eat species mentioned such as muskrat, turtles, and fish. They often harm barred owls by hitting them with cars. Even if the owl swoops down to pick up trash mistaken for prey, simply the wind from the car can injure the owl if he is too close.
4. Yellow Pond Lily (Nuphar luteum) Yellow pond lily is only found in still or slow moving bodies of water, such as the creeks and ponds of the Wicomico River. It is often found near cattails, duckweed, pickerel weed, and arrow arum. Their rhizomes, or root-stalks, grow deep into the soil while the flower and leaves stay on the surface of the water. The flower provides seeds often eaten by ducks, frogs, and geese. The rhizomes are less commonly consumed, although muskrats and beavers will eat them. Beavers will also eat the leaves. Yellow pond lily, in addition to being a critical food source, provides habitat for species such as muskrats, bluegills, largemouth bass, the American eel, and many more.
8. Barred Owls (Strix varia) Barred Owls, although being under two feet tall, have a wingspan of about four feet. They often reside in wooded areas near swamps. Their nests are commonly used by squirrels or other birds once they are gone. Barred owls eat wild turkey, snakes, and even small fish but the largest portion of their diet comes from rodents such as muskrat. The face of a barred owl is strikingly similar to the polyphemus moth, making predators reluctant to attack which has helped move them to the top of their food chain. Their only statistically significant causes of death are cars and disease.