Coastal Wetlands

Cover-Wondrous Wetlands

Coastal wetlands form at the Gulf of Mexico where Texas rivers end. (Remember – the Gulf of Mexico is the ocean.)

Only certain kinds of animals can live in coastal wetlands because the water has some salt in it. Some coastal wetlands have more salt in them than others. Sometimes we call coastal wetlands "salt marshes." Marshes are wetlands that don't have trees.

The salt in coastal wetlands makes it very difficult for plants to live here so you won't see as many plants in coastal wetlands as you will in freshwater wetlands.



What Lives in Coastal Wetlands?

Remember how we talked about diversity? That means LOTS of different animals live in our coastal wetlands, so we couldn’t possibly list them all here!

Here are some animals that live in Texas' coastal wetlands:

 Blue Crab
Copyright 2010, Jeff Parker

BLUE CRABS:  Almost like aliens from outer space, these crustaceans have eyes on top of their heads called "compound eyes" that let them see in almost every direction! They also have five pairs of legs, although one set is really a pair of pinchers.

Whooping Cranes
Copyright 2010, Earl Nottingham

WHOOPING CRANES: Every year about 250 whooping cranes migrate a whopping 2,500 miles from Canada to the coastal wetlands of Texas to spend the winter. Sixty years ago only 16 of them lived in the wild! Whew – they were nearly extinct! Hopefully whooping cranes will never go extinct.
 Fiddler Crabs  FIDDLER CRABS: Fiddler crabs move sideways. They have one little pincher and one big one. Their name comes from the way they move the pincher – as if they are playing a fiddle! They use the big pincher to scare and attract a mate. If the big pincher breaks off, the small one becomes big to take its place. That's how important that big pincher is to the fiddler crab! Do you think the fiddler crabs big pincher almost measures the same length as its body?
Baby Shrimp (Photo not available) BABY SHRIMP: One female shrimp will release 100,000 to 1,000,000 eggs and 24 hours later those eggs will hatch in Texas coastal wetlands. They'll live there during the winter months and later, when they are about 3" long, they head for the ocean. Baby shrimp make a favorite meal for many animals that live in coastal wetlands. Not even a half of those eggs that the mama shrimp released will make it to the ocean in the springtime.
 Lightning whelk (Photo not available) Texas Indians once used lightning whelk shells as tools. And guess what lives inside? a carnivorous snail-like animal that likes to dine on other coastal wetland creatures like oysters and clams.
The lightning whelk is also Texas' official state shell. Maybe that's because of the cool lightning designs these shells have on them.

Coastal Wetland Plants

What do seagrass meadows, marsh grasses and fiddler crabs all have in common?Coastal Wetlands

The tunnels that fiddler crabs build under the sand provide oxygen to the grass roots. All plants need oxygen and this is nature’s way of helping coastal wetland plants get some of the oxygen that they need.

What the fiddler crab helps do is called "aeration" (air-ay-shun). Notice how when you say the word aloud it starts with the sound "AIR?" Aeration is all about getting air into the soil so plants can get the oxygen they need to grow better.

Coastal wetlands can be considered marshes because they don’t have trees. Instead, they might have grasses growing in them.

To learn more about the plants and animals that live in our Texas coastal wetlands, visit the TPWD Sea Center Web site.

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