Bayou country spans the Gulf Coast of the southeastern United States. These slow-moving, flatland sections of rivers or lakes can be freshwater, saltwater or a brackish combination of the two. Usually shallow and often heavily vegetated, the bayous teem with wildlife that lend distinctive flavor to this slice of America.
Once an endangered species, American alligators have now recovered; more than a million reside in the boggy swamps, rivers, lakes and bayous of the Southeast. Found mainly in Louisiana and Florida, the male alligator grows up to 15 feet long, weighs about 1,000 pounds and can live up to 50 years. These prehistoric reptiles swim through the water with great agility and feast on fish, turtles, snakes, small mammals and -- depending on their hunger level -- pets or people.
Fish and Snakes
Since bayous move slowly while swamps are stagnant pools, bayous have more oxygen in the water to provide a proper home for more than 100 species of fish. Bass, bream, Rio Grande perch, catfish, carp, shrimp, crawfish and more can be found in these waterways. The bayou also hosts the only poisonous water snake in the U.S.: the water moccasin, also called a "cottonmouth" snake. The diamondback water snake and yellow-bellied water snake aren't only harmless to humans but are predators of the cottonmouth.
The Louisiana black bear, a small subspecies of the American black bear, is found in Louisiana, Mississippi and eastern Texas. The threatened bear is the subject of regional conservation efforts and can be found at the Bayou Teche National Wildlife Refuge in southeast Louisiana, which is the only such refuge specifically tasked with managing the bears. They live in thick woods and eat berries and acorns in addition to grubs or small animals.
The bobcat's place in the bayou ecosystem shows how adaptable this wildcat is. Found through much of Northern America, the elusive bayou bobcat is as at home in this marshland as in the deserts or suburbs. About twice as big as a house cat, it can leap on its prey of birds and small mammals with a 10-foot pounce. Bobcats walk the bayou as a reliable water and food source.
Birds and Small Mammals
Avian bayou residents include pelicans, egrets, herons, ibises, ducks, vultures, hawks, owls, sandpipers, woodpeckers, wrens and more. Critters of the bayou include muskrats, beavers, raccoons, opossums and armadillos. On the larger side many deer are found in the bayou woods, making this area a draw for hunters.
- National Geographic: Bayou
- Cove Bear: Bayous and Swamps
- National Geographic: American Alligator
- Newton: Nature Bulletin: Water Snakes
- Sciangler.com: Fishing in the Bayou
- Fish and Wildlife Service: Bayou Teche National Wildlife Refuge
- Black Bear Conservation Coalition: Quick Facts
- National Geographic: Bobcats
- City of Houston: Bobcats
- Beaumont Enterprise: Get to know your local venomous snakes
- Comstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images