Elms Environmental Education Center

Welcome to Planet Earth

Critter of the Month

Every month we highlight a different local animal.

May 2016: American Shad

American Shad


American Shad
Alosa sapidissima

Who am I?

 I am fish. I am an anadromous fish which just means that I spend most of my life in saltwater. Not all of it, however. every spring when the water begins to warm I head upstream into fresher and fresher water until I am way up in the streams where I will lay my eggs. This assumes that the humans have not built dams or other obstructions that would keep me from getting upstream. Time once was when my friends and i would swim up all the rivers on the east coast of North America. Now there are only a few places left. Once I have made it upstream I will lay a few hundred thousand eggs. My eggs will drift downstream and hatch within a couple of weeks My babies will spend their first year in these freshwater streams before heading out to the ocean where we all overwinter. A few years later I will head back upstream to where I was born to lay my own eggs.

Where can you find me?

 We are found everywhere from Canada to North Carolina, breeding in the freshwater rivers along the coast and spending our winters in the Atlantic between Maryland and North Carolina.

What do I eat?

 When I am a small fry, baby, I will eat mostly small animals that live in freshwater streams, like copepods and other zooplankton. As an adult I will continue to eat plankton but will also eat small crustaceans and fish.

What might eat me?

 Most of the bigger fish in the ocean will eat me. Sharks, dolphin, tuna and mackerel are among the fish I worry most about. In the Chesapeake I am a favorite meal of striped bass and the american eel.

Cool reasons why I am the critter of the month!

  • In the Chesapeake only the Patuxent, Nanticoke and Susquehanna rivers remain as viable breeding grounds for shad.
  • I was once the most sought after finfish, not only in the Bay, but throughout the east coast of North America.
  • If I am breeding in the southern part of the United States I may only breed once before dying. Further north I may have the chance to return to my birth home many times before dying.
  • The oldest shad found in Maryland was 11 years old.
  • The biggest shad ever recorded was 2 1/2 feet long.

April 2016: Wild Turkey

Eastern Wild Turkey
Meleagris gallopavo silvestris

Who am I?

 I am turkey, hear me gobble. I am not a very good father. In March and April I will strut around and try to mate with as many females as I can. The females will make a nest in the dirt and lay about 10-15 eggs. In about a month the eggs will hatch and the females will teach the young how to find food. I cannot fend myself well but I may kick you or stab you with my spurs. I can fly, yes I can fly. Not far, mind you, but fast, like a rocket. Often I will run away from those who are trying to catch me.

Where can you find me?

 The wild turkey is native to North America and can be found in mature forested areas throughout the continental US, though mostly in the East.

What do I eat?

 I am an omnivore, meaning I will eat both vegetables and meat. I will scour the ground with my friends looking for berries, nuts, snails, insects and other edible bits.

What might eat me?

 Ooh, the list is long. everybody loves turkey, especially humans, especially in November. Bobcats, cougars, wolves, coyotes, eagles and other non-human animals will try to eat me as an adult. Because my nests are on the ground the eggs are particularly vulnerable to snakes, raccoons, skunks and opossums.

Cool reasons why I am the critter of the month!

  • Thanksgiving! Okay, cool for you but not for me.
  • I am mating now and you may well see me strutting about in your woods.
  • My species was almost wiped out by humans but now we have recovered and there are many of us around. Thank you humans for killing most of my predators. No thanks for killing me yourselves.
  • I can change the color of my head from blue to pink to white depending on my mood.
  • I can run about 25 mph, about as fast as the fastest human.
  • When I am hanging out with my friends in a group we are sometimes called  a crop”, “dole”, “gang”, “posse”, or “raffle ... among other things.

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