10 Animals That Live In A Lake

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Animals make their homes all over the world and in every place imaginable. Some live on land, where they burrow underground, or live under leaves or in trees. Others live in bodies of water, where they may or may not leave for short periods of time. 

One of those bodies of water is a lake, and your average lake is home to more than you can even imagine.

Lakes come in all sizes and shapes; some are deep, and some are shallow, but each has defining characteristics. There are also different kinds of lakes: saltwater and freshwater.

Let’s take an overview of an aquatic habitat.

Saltwater Lakes vs Freshwater Lakes

Freshwater lakes are those that have minimal salt content; they aren’t completely salt-free. They are formed via inland depressions that were left because of volcanoes, dried-up rivers, glacial imprints, and moving plate tectonics. The depressions fill up with water.

Saltwater lakes contain more salt deposits and are land-locked, meaning they don’t have an outlet connecting them to the sea. So the salt never goes anywhere, and the water retains salinity.

Difference Between a Lake vs. Pond

It can be difficult to tell the difference between a lake and a pond because they are both slow-moving bodies of water. You would think that it would boil down to size, but what happens when size is a subjective factor?

What you would think of a pond might be a lake, and vice versa. That’s what makes it so difficult to classify bodies of water just simply based on size. Think about the various lakes you might have seen. Some you can see clearly across to the other side. Others, you can’t see where it ends.

Yet, there are a few things you can examine closer to get an idea of how to distinguish them apart.

Look at the depth; is it shallow enough that light reaches the bottom? Is it mostly the same temperature throughout, and does it only have small — or no — waves? Typically, these characteristics are evidence that it’s a pond and not a lake. 

The way light hits the bottom of the pond can sometimes allow aquatic plants to grow at the bottom as well as on the surface. If you notice plants on the sea bed, it could very well be a pond. 

However, there is one noticeable exception. You can see all the way to the bottom of some of the clearest lakes in the US, and they are actual lakes, not ponds. 

Lakes have slow-moving currents, or they could be standing bodies of water with no movement, depending on the size. 

Why Do Animals Live in a Lake?

Animals live in a lake because it contains important parts of an ecosystem that they need to survive. Perhaps it’s a primary food source that is only found in a lake. Of course, there are animals, such as freshwater fish and turtles, that need water to survive, or they will perish. 

Other animals live in or around a lake to stay hydrated. All animals need water to survive, even if it’s to drink, which is why you often see animals congregating around bodies of water in the wild. 

Characteristics of the Animals That Live in a Lake

Animals may live their whole lives in a lake or only go there for specific purposes such as to mate or raise young. Some also find their food in that primary source or use the water to hide from predators. 

There are both freshwater habitats and saltwater habitats all over the world. They are absolutely amazing, simply for the life that they sustain and provide for. Without them, many of the animals on this planet wouldn’t exist. You can find them in plains, deserts, in the mountains, and on every continent. 

The types of animals that live in freshwater habitats and saltwater lakes, whether all or some of the time, all have different characteristics. So much so that it can be difficult to break them down into categories, but let’s try!

Freshwater Lake Animals

Many freshwater fish call lakes home; in fact, 41% of all fish species live in these bodies of water. Freshwater lakes are also home to beavers, frogs, electric eels, hurons, and many insects, including the dragonfly. These animals all need the freshwater to survive.

Saltwater Lake Animals

When comparing saltwater and freshwater habitats, many more animals call saltwater lakes home than freshwater. These include many fish species, such as the clownfish, grouper, and pufferfish, to name a few. 

Semiaquatic Animals

Semi aquatic animals are those that live on land and in water for part of the time. Most of these are amphibians, but some reptiles and mammals fall into this category too. 

Animals That Live in a Lake 

There are so many animals that live in a lake that it would take us days, weeks, maybe even months to name them all! However, we have pulled out some of the top types of animals you can expect to see.

Let’s take a look! 

1. Ducks 

animals that live in a lake
Scientific Name Too many to list, Varies depending on species
Class Aves
Order Anseriformes
Habitats Global

There are nearly 200 duck species in the world, each with their own unique color patterns and personality characteristics. Some are more acclimated to warmer weather, while some can actually thrive in cold weather. They are typically found on every continent, with the exception of Antarctica. 

Ducks are semi-aquatic in nature, as they live on land and spend a lot of time in the water. They also adapt very well to multiple conditions. You can find ducks in both freshwater and saltwater lakes.

There are different types of feeding habits, such as dabbling and diving. Those who dabble just submerge their heads while keeping their bodies on the surface of the water. Then, there are the diving ducks, which swim underwater foraging for food. 

You can find these waterfowl eating anything from grass to insects, amphibians, and small fish, such as minnows. If you’ve ever seen a duck dive underwater, it’s either going to get some food or cleverly hiding from a predator that is in the immediate area.

2. Lake Trout

animal that lives in a lake
Scientific Name Salvelinus namaycush
Class Actinopterygii
Order Salmoniformes
Habitats North America

Lake trout is one of those fish that people love to eat. They go fishing and hope to catch several to bring back to camp or home for dinner. They are a product of commercial fishing. 

Lake trout thrive in oxygen-rich waters and primarily exist in North America, typically in the northernmost states. When left to grow, these fish live very long lives, sometimes up to 70 years, and they can grow to be massive in size.

It’s not uncommon to see them up to three feet in length. The largest on record weighed a whopping 102 pounds — imagine how many people that could feed!

The trout is a fish that loves cold water environments and is a carnivorous fish. It’s also known by other names, including togue, namaycush, mackinaw, gray trout, and lake char. At a young age, they eat plankton and aquatic insects, as well as invertebrates. Older lake trout, however, eat other smaller fish.

You can also find the trout in Yellowstone Lake, inside Yellowstone National Park, but there, they are considered an invasive species.

3. Salamanders

name an animal that lives in a lake
Scientific Name Varies, depending on the species
Class Amphibia
Order Caudata
Habitats Worldwide, mostly in the Northern Hemisphere

Salamanders are those cute little lizard-like amphibians that either live in lakes or around water sources, including lakes. They are often called lizards, but they aren’t reptiles by any means. 

This might shock you: there are more than 750 salamander species living around the world, though many primarily live in the Northern Hemisphere. Salamanders have long, slender bodies with lengthy tails, and if they lose a body part? They can just grow another one in its place. 

The salamander’s diet consists of insects, mealworms, white worms, and other stuff found in its natural habitat.

Many are also kept as pets, during which you should rely on a veterinarian’s experience to guide you. Mealworms and crickets will likely be the majority of its diet in this case. 

Aquatic salamanders are also prey to some other aquatic and semi-aquatic species such as small fish, largemouth bass, and potentially ducks. 

4. Flamingos

lake animal
Scientific Name Varies, depending on the species
Class Aves
Order Phoenicopteriformes
Habitats North and South America, Asia, parts of Africa, and Europe

No visit to the zoo is ever complete without a glimpse at the Flamingos, those tall birds that tend to make an art of balancing on one leg. One cool thing about Flamingos: did you know that they’re not actually pink? It’s the organisms they eat that give them that distinctive color. 

Flamingos are a type of wading bird, and they tend to be found in saline and alkaline habitats. Their beaks are their primary source of eating, but they do so in a unique way. They invert them to filter feed, which allows them easier access to the organisms that provide their coloring. Flamingos also enjoy small fish and aquatic plants. 

There are actually six flamingo species across the world, with four of them living in North and South America. Some have extremely bright plumage, while others are a more muted color, depending on the amount of carotenoids they consume. 

These birds are actually pretty tall, too; many can reach over 4.5 feet tall. Many people mistakenly assume they cannot fly, but this is not true. They actually fly very frequently and have big wingspans that help them glide through the air.

5. Heron 

animals that live in lakes
Scientific Name Varies, depending on the species
Class Aves
Order Pelecaniformes
Habitats Global

If you’ve ever seen a pretty tall white bird standing patiently at a water’s edge, you’ve likely seen a heron in hunting mode. These birds are very patient and known for using their beaks as spears when fishing for food. They simply wait for it to come to them and then stab the fish to secure it. 

As waterfowl, herons are naturally semi-aquatic; they hunt for fish at the waterside but spend the nights sleeping in trees. There are different types of herons, too. In fact, there are 72 species of this waterfowl, which you might hear referred to as bitterns or egrets.

Herons are carnivorous and active predators. In addition to fish, their diets consist of a wide variety of different animals, including insects, frogs, reptiles, and crustaceans, and they even eat other birds! But fish tend to be the primary source of their food. 

While they don’t live in lakes, you can find herons in the wild, typically in wetlands, though depending on the species, they may exist in marshes, swamps, saltwater, and freshwater habitats. 

The most common type of heron in North America is the Great Blue Heron.

6. Painted Turtle

lake animals
Scientific Name Chrysemys picta
Class Reptilia
Order Testudines
Habitats North America

There are around 350 different types of turtle species, one of which is the painted turtle, which lives in lakes. It’s the most widespread, as well, living all over the North American continent from Canada to Mexico and from coast to coast. 

Unlike most reptiles, painted turtles will not freeze when exposed to freezing temperatures because it has a special substance in their blood that keeps them from doing so.

They breed from March to mid-June, and the temperature of the nest will actually determine the sex of the hatchlings. Cooler temps result in more males, and warmer temps will net more females. 

The painted turtle’s diet consists of aquatic insects, snails, fish, tadpoles, and even crustaceans. But did you know that they must be in the water while they eat? This is because their tongues are pretty much stationary, and the water helps them to manipulate food better. 

Painted turtles have about 60 bones in their shells, and they provide adequate protection that often in adulthood, they are rarely eaten by predators. Some painted turtles may lose limbs to wildlife. However, they do live long lives, typically 20 to 40 years. 

7. River Otters 

animals that live in water and land
Scientific Name Lontra canadensis
Class Mammalia
Order Carnivora
Habitats Global

River otters are definitely one of the cutest animals you will find living in a freshwater habitat, and though they are called river otters, you can find them in lakes, ponds, and streams as well! 

Their sleek bodies make it easy for them to swim through the water while their strong tails and webbed toes propel them along. They have two layers of fur with guard hairs that help them repel water and keep them dry.

Their ears and noses close while underwater, but they have a third eyelid that helps them see and navigate. They weigh between 10 and 33 pounds and tend to range from 2.5 to 5 feet long.

The diet of a river otter consists mostly of fish, though they are known to eat crustaceans and amphibians as well. Have you ever seen a river otter playing with a clamshell? That’s because they eat mollusks, too! 

River otters are found throughout most of the North American continent, from Mexico’s Rio Grande River to Alaska. Two places you won’t find them, though, are in the desert and in the Arctic. 

8. Freshwater Crocodiles

animals that swim
Scientific Name Crocodylus johnsoni
Class Reptilia
Order Crocodylia
Habitats Australia

Crocodiles can be scary if you are lucky (or unlucky, however, you see it) enough to encounter one in the wild. Freshwater crocodiles, however, tend to be smaller, and they are isolated to basically one region of the world: the Northern Territory, Western Australia, and Queensland. 

The freshwater crocodile typically makes rivers, billabongs, wetlands, and creeks its home. They’re easily recognizable by their narrower snouts and large bony plates that sit right behind their heads.

Freshwater crocodiles are often around half the size of saltwater crocs, as well, hitting around a maximum of 9.8 feet long. 

Another noticeable difference between freshwater crocs and their saltwater counterparts is that the freshwater variety tends to be far less aggressive. They will actually flee from humans as long as you don’t encounter them in the water.

These reptiles that live in lakes eat a variety of different things, including vertebrates and invertebrates, and they aren’t particularly choosy. Frogs, lizards, turtles, snakes, insects, mammals, and birds tend to be fair game. Though they seem to prefer insects and fish.

Another fun fact is that this species can sometimes be cannibalistic, with older freshwater crocs eating younger hatchlings.

9. Water snake 

fresh water wildlife
Scientific Name Nerodia sipedon
Class Reptilia
Order Natricinae
Habitats North America

You won’t ever find a body of water without a snake unless it’s a teeny, tiny puddle of water, of course. There are many types of water snakes, as well, though the common water snake is one that’s widespread across North America. 

This variety of water snake is highly variable but tends to have the same characteristics, such as a large rounded head and a heavy body that seemingly defies all logic and swims fast in the water. They have a blackish-grayish body with brown to reddish splotches and may have crossbands. 

The common water snake is typically near any habitat, including ponds, bogs, rivers, and lakes. You’ll even likely find them in a marsh, among other snake varieties, as well.

Common water snakes that live in lakes are often mistaken for cottonmouths or copperheads, but they are not venomous. They also tend to shy away from biting unless they’re agitated or feel threatened. They tend to be about 3.5 feet long, though some may be slightly shorter or longer in size.

This type of snake eats a lot of fish and amphibians, and they don’t kill the prey before eating it. Frogs, tadpoles, peepers, minnows, sunfish, catfish, and trout are all on the menu.

10. Alligators

freshwater ecosystem animals
Scientific Name Alligator sinensis (Chinese Alligator), Alligator mississippiensis (American Alligator)
Class Reptilia
Order Crocodylia
Habitats United States, China

Alligators are very common in the Southern regions of North America, particularly in the Southeastern United States in the tropics, where they tend to inhabit nearly any freshwater body without discrimination. That includes rivers, creeks, large lakes, swamps, and ponds. 

These reptiles are among the strongest of the reptiles and top predators where they live. Despite how scary they can be, they play a vital role in keeping certain animal populations from spiraling out of control.

There are only two species of alligators: American and Chinese. The Chinese alligator is actually currently classified as a critically endangered species. It’s slightly smaller, with a bigger head and a bony plate on its eyelids. On average, they are around four to five feet long, whereas the American alligator grows up to just over 11 feet long and weigh in around 1,000 pounds.  

Alligators are known to eat all kinds of animals, too; with their sharp teeth and strong jaws, they can catch a lot. They do love to eat insects and amphibians, as well as fish. But they have been known to eat snakes, smaller mammals, birds, and turtles as well. 

While alligators fear humans, they will give chase if they feel threatened or are safeguarding their nests. And when they do, they can run up to 35 miles per hour and climb chain link fences. 

What do Animals that Live in Lakes Eat?

The diet of any animal that lives in a lake is limited to the ecosystem of the lake itself, and it truly depends on the animal. Take fish, for example; they will often eat organisms in the water, sometimes the insects that live in the water and small plants. Sometimes, fish eat other smaller fish, depending on the hierarchy. 

Aquatic birds and waterfowl, such as ducks, herons, and flamingos, eat fish and other organisms. Then, the bigger predators, such as alligators, eat fish and smaller animals, which may sometimes include birds. 

The diet is truly varied. If you have one of these lake animals as a pet, such as a duck on a farm or turtles in an aquarium, their diets will likely be more varied as to what you offer them and what a veterinarian recommends. 


What Lives in a Pond or Lake?

There are so many animals that live in and around ponds and lakes. Everything from microorganisms to insects, various saltwater and freshwater fish species, birds, amphibians, and reptiles.

In the water, there’s also a variety of sea plants, such as seaweed, algae, and other aquatic plants. Snails and turtles live in the water as well.

What Animals Live at the Bottom of a Lake?

Most of us don’t pay attention to the freshwater animals that live on the bottom of a lake because we never see them- only walk on them if we swim in open bodies of water.

Down below, you can typically find small aquatic creatures such as snails, caddisflies, mayflies, worms, clams, freshwater shrimp, and freshwater crab species. 

Then, there are some fish that live down there and invertebrates, depending on what region you live in. The ecosystems around the world vary so vastly that what you find at the bottom of the lake can change from area to area. 

What Animals Live Around the Lake?

There are a number of other lake-dwelling animals that live around the water, far too many to count. However, there are several you can always plan on seeing if you visit one. Insects, frogs, salamanders, and ducks will always typically be around or in the water.

In the water, you’ll find a variety of animals as well, including fish and snakes. Birds are always present around the water since many eat freshwater fish such as lake trout and insects that gather there; then there are the minks, otters, and beavers that call the freshwater and saltwater bodies home, too.

In the wild, there are plenty of other land animals that you might find living around a lake, as well. These include a myriad of species, such as an antelope, a jaguar, water buffalo, deer, bear, wolves, and coyotes.

They all need freshwater to survive, so they use it as both a hunting ground and for drinking.

Is a Lake a Safe Home for Animals?

Generally, the aquatic animals that live around or in a lake are safe there. Of course, there are natural predators, and most are predators themselves, but that’s just the way the ecosystem works.

Those who live there know how to take precautions to protect themselves from the dangers that surround them and always find ways to adapt to their living situations.

There are some exceptions, obviously, such as lakes that are extremely polluted and, thus, a horrible landscape for animals, including freshwater fish species, to call home. Sadly, some of the most polluted lakes in the US and around the world can threaten their habitats. 

Final Thoughts

Freshwater and saltwater lakes don’t necessarily make up a lot of the water on Earth. That’s reserved for the oceans. However, what’s really significant is the ecosystems these bodies of salt and fresh water provide.

From the tiniest microorganisms at the bottom of the lake to the small mammals that thrive on the animals in the water, it’s a system that all of the animals that live in, on, or around the water count on to survive.

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