A Blue View: In The Mud

Mudflats may appear desolate to the naked eye, but there's a wealth of activity just below the surface. These areas of mud or sandy mud, which line thousands of miles of Chesapeake Bay shoreline, are hiding a rich variety of life.

Published June 15, 2016

Also known as intertidal flats, mudflats are the stinky result of fine sediments combining with organic matter, water saturation and bacterial influence. They’re affected by the rise and fall of the tide, creating various microhabitats as they’re submerged and exposed.

Though much of this ecosystem’s activity is hidden from view, you’ve probably seen evidence of its inhabitants if you’ve ever stepped foot onto its soft and slimy surface.

Fiddler Crab

The tiny holes commonly found in mudflats are likely the work of an invertebrate like the fiddler crab. This animal digs burrows along the higher intertidal zones, emerging at low tide to snack on detritus and microalgae. When the tide rises once again, it creeps back into its burrow and plugs it, sealing itself inside, safe from predators.

fiddler-crab

Great Blue Heron

Where you find fish, you’ll find birds. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot one of these majestic birds wading in the water. Their presence is a sign of life in the shallows—they’re waiting patiently to grab their next meal. Fish, insects, frogs, crabs and even mice contribute to the great blue heron’s diet.

blue-heron

Blue Crab

Visitors to the Bay have a good chance of stumbling upon a discarded crab shell while combing the shoreline. There’s a reason they end up there. Blue crabs wait for the tide to rise, and then move into the mudflat’s safe, shallow waters before shedding. 

blue-crab

To learn more about the many animals who call mudflats home, listen to this week’s A Blue View:

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