Plants, animals, and other life forms have adapted to live and reproduce in aquatic habitats. Iowa’s waters are home to thousands of plant and animal species. This section provides a brief introduction to the different types found in our waters.
- Iowa’s Nature Series – Aquatic Environments – From the ephemeral pool of a prairie pothole to the giant pools of the mighty Mississippi, Iowa’s lands are defined by their diverse, and critically important aquatic ecosystems.
Aquatic plants are essential in aquatic ecosystems. They provide oxygen, food, shelter, and protect shorelines and stream banks from eroding. They have a variety of adaptations to living in, on or near water and are divided into several groups.
- Minnesota Department of Natural Resources: Aquatic Plants – Information about aquatic plants. Broken into groups – algae, emergent plants, floating-leaf plants, and submerged plants.
- Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR): Aquatic Invasive Plants – Pictures and descriptions of aquatic invasive plants (with pdf downloads).
- Iowa DNR: Aquatic Plants in Iowa Ponds – Detailed information about aquatic plants you will find in Iowa ponds. Includes recommendations for what to grow and what not to grow in farm ponds.
- Iowa’s Nature Series – Plants – From the bur oak tree towering over the savanna to the humble bladderwort, floating untethered in the water of wetlands, Iowa’s plants and plant-like organisms are fascinatingly diverse.
Invertebrates are the least conspicuous, but most abundant, animal group. They range in size from microscopic to larger than a baseball. Invertebrates found in Iowa waters range from freshwater sponges to worms and crustaceans (scuds, copepods, and crayfish), mollusks (mussels and snails), arachnids (spiders, ticks, and mites), and insects.
- Illinois Department of Natural Resources: Mussels – Main page for mussel information. Includes links to photos, life history, conservation, etc…
- Freshwater Mussels of Iowa – Mussels of Iowa information guide (opens as a pdf). Includes history, life cycle, conservation, and common mussels found in Iowa.
- Iowa’s Nature Series – Invertebrates – features the stories of a few of the thousands of insects, spiders, crustaceans, butterflies, moths, worms, snails, mussels, and leeches found in Iowa, everywhere from our border rivers to our homes
- Iowa’s Aquatic Macroinvertebrates – Photos and distribution maps of aquatic macroinvertebrates found in Iowa.
- Aquatic MacroInvertebrate Collection demonstration project, see also the Resources Page – Carnegie Museum of Natural History
- Iowa’s Nature Series – Vertebrates – From city sewers to pristine prairies, the reptiles, amphibians, birds, mammals, fish, and lamprey found within Iowa’s borders are as diverse and fascinating as the people found there.
- Iowa DNR: Iowa Fish Species – Fish families and species found in Iowa.
Amphibians and Reptiles
- Iowa HerpNet – Online field guide to amphibians and reptiles found in Iowa
- Iowa Ornithologist Union: Iowa Birds & Birding – Information about birding and birds found in Iowa.
- Iowa Breeding Bird Atlas 2008-2012 – Data and information from the second Breeding Bird Atlas project in Iowa.
Many small mammals are associated with aquatic habitats. Mice, voles, and shrews can be found tunneling through grass at the water’s edge. Several species of bats can be seen in foraging flights for insects over water in the evenings. Beaver, muskrat, and river otters are larger mammals that are closely linked to water.
- Polk County Conservation Board: Iowa Mammals – General information about mammals and the mammals that live in Iowa.
Activities listed below are from the Aquatic WILD guide and relevant to Iowa. Activities with supplemental information are linked below. Use the supplemental information in conjunction with the Aquatic WILD activity.
- Aquatic Roots (6-8)
- Are You Me? (K-2)
- Blue Ribbon Niche (3-5, 6-8)
- Designing a Habitat (3-5, 6-8)
- Edge of Home (3-5, 6-8)
- Fashion a Fish (K-s, 3-5)
- Fishy Who’s Who (3-5, 6-8)
- Marsh Munchers (3-5)
- Micro Odyssey (3-5, 6-8)
- Migration Headache (6-8)
- Puddle Wonders! (6-8)
- Riparian Retreat (3-5)
- Water Canaries (6-8, 9-12)
- Water Plant Art (K-2, 3-5)
- Water We Eating? (3-5)
- Wetland Metaphors (3-5)