Floating and swimming aquatic organisms that are always under water are found in shallow water habitats. Small and juvenile fishes, shrimps, crabs, jellyfishes, and other aquatic animals either swim or get transported into the salt marsh during high tides then leave with receding tides. Fish schools with mixed species congregate in the shallows throughout summer months feeding on worms, amphipods, algae, shrimps and other prey. During winter, many of these species move into deeper waters with warmer temperatures, while others bury themselves in bottom mud until warm weather returns.
Mummichog (Fundulus heteroclitus)
Males and females have different coloration patterns; in mating season, males have dark bodies with blues specks and yellow fins; females are a grey-brown; maximum size 5-6 inches long; move into marsh grasses during high tides to feed; highly abundant in Chesapeake bay and common prey item for larger fish and birds; The name comes from a Native American word meaning “going in crowds” since various age groups stay together in large schools.
Striped Killifish (Fundulus majalis)
Similar size as mummichog, but with darker bands; horizontal bars on females, vertical bars on males; prefers sandy bottoms adjacent to beaches where they can be seen right at the water line.
Sheepshead Minnow (Cyprinidon variegatus)
Brightly colored fish up to 4 inches long with a stubby body compared to other marsh fish; males display iridescent blue during spring and early summer spawning season.
Spot (Leiostomus xanthurus)
Sloping head with angled oblique stripes across the back, slightly forked tail; distinct black spot near gill opening; ocean species that moves into and feeds in shallow water habitats, especially juveniles; feeds on worms, mollusks, crustaceans and detritus.
Atlantic Croaker (Micropogonias undulates)
Silvery-pink bottom-dweller with slightly pointed tail, vague oblique stripes across the back; fringe of tiny chin barbels used to search for food on the bottom; makes loud ‘croaking’ sound; small croakers congregate close to shore feeding on worms, mollusks, crustaceans and small fish.
Atlantic Menhaden (Brevoortia tyrannus)
Silvery-blue herring with dark spots on sides; eggs hatch at sea then larvae eventually move into brackish waters to grow throughout the summer; large schools swim rapidly just below water surface to filter out plankton; important prey fish for striped bass, tunas, sharks, fish-eating birds and mammals; commercially captured fish.
Atlantic Silverside (Menidia menidia)
Silver and transparent body with light green tinge above silver stripe; one of the most abundant fish in the bay and an important prey for fisheries, especially stripped bass and bluefish; resides in the shallows in warmer months and deeper or offshore.
Bay Anchovy (Anchoa mitchilli)
Thicker silver stripe in middle of fish and body is mostly transparent; Resides in shallow waters in warmer months and moves to deeper waters in cooler months; schooling species that eats zooplankton; one of the most abundant fish in the bay and important prey source for commercially and recreationally caught fish.
Hogchoker (Trinectes maculatus)
Flat fish with both eyes on right side of head; brown and back coloration with stripes and dots; abundant year round in Chesapeake Bay.
Striped Bass - Juvenile (Morone saxatilis)
Also known as rockfish in the Chesapeake Bay; dark, horizontal stripes on silver body; Chesapeake Bay is key spawning habitat; juveniles reside in coastal shallow waters utilizing underwater plants and mashes as habitat; adults migrate up the Atlantic coast annually; adult females live longer and grow larger than males; recreationally and commercially captured species.
Silver Perch (Bairdiella chrysoura)
Silver fish with thin lateral line; grow up to 1ft long; juveniles reside in shallow habitat, sea grasses, and marshes; abundant through year with peak abundances in Fall; migrate to deeper waters in colder months; caught in commercial and recreational fisheries but not targeted.
Spotted Seatrout - Juvenile (Cynoscion nebulosus)
Also known as speckled trout; black spots around and above lateral line; reside in shallows near underwater vegetation; most abundant in lower reaches of the Chesapeake Bay; migrate to the bay for warmer waters; both commercially and recreationally caught fish.
Grass Shrimp (Palaemonetes pugio)
Small, almost transparent shrimp with distinct claws as the first two pairs of walking legs; abundant in shallow water habitats scavenging on dead and decaying plants and animals; eaten by young predatory fishes.
Horseshoe Crab (Limulus polyphemus)
Primitive-looking arthropod more closely related to terrestrial spiders than crabs; hard, brownish-green exoskeleton, five pairs of jointed legs, and spike-like tail; up to 2 feet in length; searches through bottom sediment to feed on worms and mollusks; crawls onto sandy beaches for spawning each spring and summer, eggs and larvae provide food for shorebirds, fish, invertebrates and sea turtles.
Blue Crab (Callinectes sapidus)
Iconic swimming crustacean with olive green shell, bright blue claws and red claw tips on mature females; uses many habitats during life cycle, including shallow waters and tidal marshes during warm weather; feeds on smaller and soft-shelled blue crabs, oysters, clams, mussels, smaller crustaceans, freshly dead fish, and detritus; preyed upon by croakers and other drum fish, great blue herons and other wading birds, sea turtles and river otters.
Jellyfishes & Comb Jellies
Sea Nettle (Chrysaora quinquecirrha)
Infamous stinging jellyfish with widespread distribution; smooth, milky white bell up to about 4 inches in diameter; up to 24 tentacles hang from under the bell; carnivorous and opportunistic feeds on fish, shrimp, comb jellies and other small creatures; preyed upon by larger fishes, sea turtles and crustaceans.
Lion’s Mane Jellyfish (Cyanea capillata)
Occurs only during winter and spring months; broad, flattened bell usually orange-brown; eight clusters of short tentacles; feeds on fish, shrimp, comb jellies and other small creatures.
Moon Jellyfish (Aurelia aurita)
Largest of the Chesapeake Bay jellyfishes more than 1 foot in diameter; bell is nearly flat, white with dark horseshoe-shaped pink gonads at the center; hundreds of short tentacles hang like fringe from bell’s edge; feeds on plankton including mollusks, crustaceans and copepods.
Pink Comb Jelly (Beroe ovata)
Egg-shaped body without stinging tentacles; bright iridescent color bands made up of tiny hairs called combs; voracious feeders of planktonic organisms like copepods, fish larvae and the smaller sea walnut.
Sea Walnut (Mnemiopsis leidyi)
Colorless, walnut-shaped body without stinging tentacles; more widely distributed than pink comb jelly.