Wetland Vertebrate Wildlife

Thomas A. Eddy and David Edds
Wetland Environments

Wetlands are some of the most productive ecosystems in the world and are home to a rich variety of vertebrate animals. Vertebrates are members of the subphylum Vertebrata within the phylum Chordata, Kingdom Animalia, and include fishes, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals. The group gets its name from the vertebral column, or backbone, that protects the spinal cord.

North American wetland vertebrates include representatives from five taxonomic classes: Actinopterygii, Amphibia, Reptilia, Aves, and Mammalia. Each of these classes is subdivided into orders. Some common orders of wetland vertebrates are provided here, along with representative examples. Those with wetland affinity are given in bold.


Order Acipenseriformes (sturgeons & paddlefish)
Order Lepisosteiformes (gars)
Order Amiiformes (bowfin)
Order Hiodontiformes (mooneye, goldeye)
Order Anguilliformes (American eel)
Order Clupeiformes (herrings, shad)
Order Cypriniformes (carps, minnows, suckers)
Order Siluriformes (catfishes)
Order Esociformes (pikes)
Order Salmoniformes (trouts & salmons)
Order Gadiformes (burbot, cods)
Order Atheriniformes (silversides)
Order Cyprinodontiformes (pupfishes, topminnows, mosquitofish)
Order Gasterosteiformes (sticklebacks)
Order Perciformes (basses, sunfishes, perches)

CLASS AMPHIBIA (amphibians)

Order Anura (frogs & toads)
Order Caudata (salamanders, amphiumas, mudpuppies, water dogs, sirens)
Order Gymnophiona (caecilians)


Order Testudines (turtles, tortoises, terrapins)
Order Squamata (snakes, lizards, amphisbaenids)
Order Crocodilia (crocodiles & alligators)

CLASS AVES (birds)

Order Anseriformes (waterfowl: ducks, geese & swans)
Order Galliformes (fowl: turkeys, grouse, quails, pheasants)
Order Gaviiformes (loons)
Order Podicipediformes (grebes)
Order Pelecaniformes (pelicans, cormorants, darters)
Order Ciconiiformes (storks, herons, egrets, ibises, spoonbills)
Order Phoenicopteriformes (flamingos)
Order Falconiformes (falcons, eagles, hawks)
Order Gruiformes (cranes, rails, coots, gallinules)
Order Charadriiformes (gulls, snipe, sandpipers, terns, stilts, plovers)
Order Columbiformes (doves, pigeons)
Order Strigiformes (owls)
Order Caprimulgiformes (nightjars)
Order Apodiformes (swifts, hummingbirds)
Order Coraciiformes (kingfishers)
Order Piciformes (woodpeckers)
Order Passeriformes (sparrows, flycatchers, blackbirds, swallows, finches, vireos, jays, warblers, wrens, chickadees, etc.)


Order Didelphimorphia (opossum)
Order Cingulata (armadillo)
Order Rodentia (squirrels, beaver, muskrat, voles, mice)
Order Lagomorpha (rabbits)
Order Primates (humans)
Order Soricomorpha (shrews, moles)
Order Chiroptera (bats)
Order Carnivora (bobcat, fox, skunk, otter, raccoon)
Order Sirenia (manatee)
Order Artiodactyla (deer, pronghorn)
Order Primates (humans)

Kansas vertebrate species total 135 fishes, 31 amphibians, 66 reptiles, 424 birds, and 86 mammals (plus humans). Of these, fishes are purely aquatic, amphibians are semiaquatic, and the rest depend on water to varying degrees based on their individual adaptations and behaviors. Birds have by far the largest number of vertebrate species found in Kansas; many of these are migratory visitors or seasonal residents that depend on wetland environments.

The following pictures illustrate vertebrate wildlife typical of wetlands in the central United States. Common names are given for each animal along with its classification. Some representative wetland scenes are portrayed also. Click on small images to see larger versions.

Cricket Frog
Great Plains Skink (Eumeces obsoletus)
Cheyenne Bottoms, Kansas
Photo by J.S. Aber
Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta)
Shell bottom, Cheyenne Bottoms, Kansas
Photo by S.W. Aber
Whooping Cranes
Yellow-headed Blackbird
Aves (nest)
Aves (display)
Least Bittern (Ixobrychus exilis)
Nest, Squaw Creek NWR, Missouri
Photo by S. Acosta
Least Bittern (Ixobrychus exilis)
Defending nest, Squaw Creek NWR, MO
Photo by S. Acosta.
Least Bittern (Ixobrychus exilis)
Chicks, Squaw Creek NWR, Missouri
Photo by S. Acosta
Pied-billed Grebe (Podilymbus podiceps)
Chick, Squaw Creek NWR, Missouri
Photo by S. Acosta
American Coot (Fulica americana)
Chicks, Squaw Creek NWR, Missouri
Photo by S. Acosta
Muskrat lodge in cattail marsh. Beaver dam in alpine meadow.
Beaver dam with fresh construction.
Cucharas Creek, southern Colorado.
Photo by J.S. Aber.
Young aspen cut for beaver dam.
Cucharas Creek, southern Colorado.
Photo by J.S. Aber.

Typical wetland scenes

Related sites

Return to wetland invertebrate wildlife.
Return to wetlands syllabus.

© Notice: Wetland Environments is presented for the use and benefit of students enrolled at Emporia State University. Any other use of text, imagery or curriculum materials is prohibited without permission of the course webmaster, J.S. Aber (2011).