Wildlife in the Bayou – Part 1

The Mississippi River is truly a bloodline for the Deep South, it has provided everything from trade to transport over the years and has received no small amount of appreciation because of this. One of the many benefits of this great river are the bayous that shoot off of it, these are marshy lakes or swamps that appear all over the Deep South and thanks to the often-present brackish water (a sort of halfway point between saltwater and freshwater) they are teeming with life. This life provides the area with much of its iconic food and characteristic wildlife that separate from the rest of the nation. What animals are those I hear you ask? Let’s take a look.

Catfish

The catfish, named for its whisker like barbells Is perhaps one of the best known dishes in Cajun cuisine and can often be found swimming through deeper bayous. The most notable species in the Mississippi is the Blue Catfish which is the largest in the area, it can grow to around 165 cm and weigh in at around 70 kg. The Blue Catfish is an opportunist, eating a wide variety of other species such as crawfish mussels and frogs. In some areas, in particular Virginia, this is considered an invasive species due to its particularly high numbers and low mortality rate, taking up much of the food that other species rely on. There are a variety of nicknames for catfish in the Deep South, names like ‘chucklehead’, ‘mud cat’ and ‘polliwogs’ are all used and can refer to a variety of different types of the animal.

Crawfish

A crawfish or crayfish as they are perhaps more commonly known is a freshwater crustacean that is similar in appearance to a lobster, though it smaller in size. They are a versatile creature that can be found in brooks, streams, ditches, paddy fields and of course swamps. As of 1983 the crawfish was chosen by the state of Louisiana is its official crustacean. Per year Louisiana produces around 100 million pounds of crawfish for consumption with the most common species being the white river and the red swamp crawfish. They are a distinct part of Cajun culture and thanks to this and their official status the state produces all sorts of crawfish themed merchandise, t-shirts, jewellery, and even wooden plaques with one attached to it can all be purchased.

Frogs

It should come as no surprise that these swampy lands attract frogs. Frogs are amphibians that feed of insect life using their extendable tongue to reach out and pull in their prey. Arguably the best known example is the American Bullfrog, this is a large frog that is crucial to the ecology of the area. Its natural predators are the larger birdlife in the bayou (most notably the Heron) and American Alligators, its eggs and larvae are also eaten by other species below the water. Frogs are also harvested by us humans and frogs legs a re something of a delicacy here on the Mississippi.