What Lives in the Chesapeake Bay?

In honor of Chesapeake Bay Week, learn about and celebrate the animals found in the largest estuary in the United States.  

Published June 06, 2017

The Chesapeake Bay is one of the most productive estuaries in the world, supporting more than 3,600 species of plants and animals. Protecting the bay is imperative for not only the 17 million people who live in its watershed, but also for the wildlife dependent on this intricate ecosystem for survival.

Celebrate Chesapeake Bay Week by learning about a few of the unique animals that live in the Bay!

Diamondback terrapin

Maryland’s state reptile can be found in coastal salt marshes, estuaries and tidal creeks along the U.S. Atlantic and Gulf coasts, including the Chesapeake Bay. The origin of the terrapin’s name is the distinctive diamond-shaped markings and grooves on the plates of their shells. This pattern, paired with their gray or black skin that’s flecked with dark spots, blotches or stripes, give the diamondback terrapin its distinctive look. In fact, no two terrapins are exactly alike in coloration and pattern!terrapin-swimming

Diamondback terrapin populations fell to dangerously low levels in the 20th century after a long period of large-scale harvesting for their meat, and they are still threatened by loss of salt marsh habitat and destruction of nesting beaches, as well as by cars and boats. Many terrapins also drown in crab pots, which can be avoided when crabbers add inexpensive devices to their pots that prevent turtles from entering and getting stuck.

Fiddler crab

The Maryland blue crab may be an icon of the Chesapeake, but it’s not the only clawed crustacean! Fiddler crabs live on beaches and in mud flats and marshes of the Chesapeake Bay, and there are three species in the region—red-jointed, marsh, sand. The males of all three species have a characteristic enlarged major claw, which is used to attract mates.fiddler-crab-on-sand

If you spot tiny holes on mudflats and beaches, you’re likely seeing the work of a fiddler crab. They create small burrows used for sleeping, mating, hibernating and hiding. During high tide, fiddler crabs return to their burrows and plug the entrance with mud or sand for protection.


These fish-eating hawks are found in every continent for except for Antarctica, living near bodies of water with abundant sources of fish, including the Chesapeake Bay! They prey almost exclusively on live fish, which they catch by plunging feet-first into water, and then carrying away with the hooked talons and barbed pads on their feet.  osprey-bird

In addition to their diving habits, ospreys are notable for their nests, which can be found in both natural and manmade elevated structures, the height of which helps to protect their eggs from raccoons.

Osprey populations experienced serious decline in the 1950s and 1960s because of pesticide poisoning, which impacted ospreys’ ability to raise healthy chicks. The ban on the pesticide DDT in 1972, coupled with an effort to construct artificial osprey nests, has allowed osprey populations to rebound to healthy levels. 

Sign up for an upcoming National Aquarium conservation event and help restore vital habitat for diamondback terrapins, fiddler crabs, ospreys and the other animals that live in the Bay!

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