Aquatic Life

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.


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.



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.







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.


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.