Estuary Patuxent: A River and Its Life
The Natural Environment of the Chesapeake Bay encompasses a rich diversity of life inhabiting the largest Estuary in America. Here you will be able to view many local species of fish and invertebrates that live in the waters of the rivers and bay, as well as visit a living salt marsh, see otters at play, and learn about the dangers of invasive species.
What's in the Gallery
The Estuarium hosts many of the aquatic inhabitants of the Chesapeake region. The waters of the Chesapeake are considered to be an Estuary because they serve as a nursery grounds for many fish and invertebrates, including the popular stripe bass (Morone saxatilis) and blue crab (Callinectes sapidus). These animals are euryhaline animals, meaning they adapt well to the wide range of salinities in the bay. The Chesapeake Bay ranges from nearly fresh water, where the 11 major fresh water rivers flow into the bay, to very salty, where the bay ends its journey flowing into the Atlantic Ocean.
When you visit the Estuarium you will get a close up look at many of the Chesapeake Bay inhabitants from some of the smallest critters, like gobies and local seahorses, to the fearsome invasive Snakehead species, captured right in the Potomac River. You will also see some of the bay’s more common species like the Rockfish, blue crab, spot, croaker, and red drum.
This exhibit, found at the end of the Gallery, gives us a new perspective on our role in the ecosystem – the unintended consequences of introducing non-native species into the environment. The exhibit features live Northern Snakeheads made notorious in the 2002 Crofton Pond episode. It also highlights such familiars as the mute swan, nutria, kudzu, and the ubiquitous Phragmites that has taken over so much of the Chesapeake marsh, as well as such common neighbors as sparrows and rats. Special lighting and impressive original illustrations add to the drama of this provocative story.
Located outside at the head of the Marsh Walk, the River Otter habitat is sure to please. Watch the otters frolic with each other or engage in playing with their favorite enrichment item. You may find them diving into the 8,000 gallon freshwater pool or taking an afternoon nap beneath their favorite hollowed out log. River otters are well suited for life in and around the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, though often go unnoticed. In the wild, they tend to be more active during the dusk and dawn hours, their dark brown fur blending seamlessly into the background. During the day, river otters are often sleeping in their den or mud-bank cave. Healthy otters will generally avoid humans. In nature, otters are atop the food web with few predators. They will eat most anything including fish, insects, birds, reptiles, amphibians, crustaceans and even other mammals. "Bubbles" and "Squeaks" do not have to bother with hunting as all of their food is provided for them. Fish, shrimp, hard-boiled eggs, carrots and various fruits round out their main diet.
Come before 4:00 p.m. to view the otters outside. Afterwards, they are brought into their holding area and can be seen through the window at the end of the Eco-Invaders exhibit. During warmer months, the river otters are given free access to the backup area allowing them to choose whether to come in or stay outside.