The Ocoee River hosts a plethora of aquatic wildlife. Some live in the river, others, along its banks, and some a little further in but still where it’s moist and woody. Anything that enjoys getting wet makes our list, because we, too, at Carolina Ocoee like a good soaking on a hot summer day when we go on a white water rafting trip. Below is a short list of water-loving amphibians and reptiles for your reading enjoyment.
Catfish are named because of the whisker type appendages (called barbels) around their nose, chin, and mouth. Catfish are highly adaptable and can be spotted all over the world, even in Antarctica where fossils are found. The most common species in America are channel catfish, blue catfish, and flathead catfish. They are found in ponds, streams, lakes, reservoirs, and rivers including the Ocoee River in the Cherokee National Forest.
Largemouth Bass are a carnivorous fish and an aggressive apex predator found in many rivers and lakes, including the Ocoee River. They can be found in the backwaters of rivers that are clear and vegetated, and they feed on other fish, frogs, and even snakes and mice.
Yellow Perch can be found in the Ocoee River where the water is calmer. They prefer clear, slow moving rivers near vegetation and dine on spiders, worms, snails and more invertebrates. They are named for their yellow/gold colors.
This yellowish brown spotted fish tends to hang out under logs, rocks, and overhanging banks, and requires cold clean water to survive. Their native home is western Asia and Europe, but they were introduced into North America in the 1800s. Brown Trout are stocked in the Ocoee River from fall to late spring when they thrive best in colder temperatures. Rainbow Trout gets its name from the pinkish red stripe on its side. They prefer the swifter currents of a river and, though the Ocoee River is warmer than the Nantahala River, rainbow trout can still be found thriving in that environment as long as the water temperature doesn’t exceed 67 to 70 degrees.
If you’re a fisherman or fisherwoman, visit Angler’s Guide to Tennessee Fish for tips and where the best places are to fish.
If you’ve seen a turtle, chances are you’ve seen an Eastern Box Turtle or the Common Snapping Turtle. These are the most common turtles in the eastern United States, including in Eastern Tennessee near the Ocoee River. They spend their time looking for food or basking in the sun near woodland areas. The Common Snapping Turtle prefers to be near water. Their diet consists of eating some form of meat with other plants, as they are omnivorous creatures and will eat most anything available.
There are several species of snakes near the Ocoee River, including timber rattlesnakes, copperheads, common water snakes, and North American Racers (black racers). None of which will bother you if you leave them alone and don’t startle them. Snakes tend to be carnivorous and will eat small animals or bigger animals depending on how large the snake is. Snakes will also eat eggs and insects. Snakes cannot withstand extreme cold or extreme heat, therefore they hibernate in the winter, and only crawl out in the sun to regulate their body temperature.
The Common Five-lined Skink is found throughout Tennessee in damp woody areas and, as its name suggests, it’s the most common skink in the state. It’s also called the Blue-tailed Skink. Occasionally, you might find this little guy next to the Ocoee River where there is plenty of wet woodland area for it to hang out.
Jordan’s Salamander is also known as the red-cheeked salamander and Appalachian woodland salamander. It can be found in the higher elevations of the Great Smoky Mountains which straddles the border of Tennessee and North Carolina. You are much more likely to see this fellow on a hike through the spruce-fir forests of The Smokies rather than near the Ocoee River. It’s such a rare find, and since our white water rafters like to hike, too, we included it here.
Like lizards, there are many species of frogs. Whereas lizards are reptiles, frogs are amphibians. Let’s throw toads in there for a little more confusion. Toads are dry and knotty-skinned and prefer dampish fields and grassland. The American Toad is the most common toad in Tennessee and is found in gardens and backyards. Frogs are smooth-skinned and live near water. They lay their eggs in water near the bank or in small pools of water. The most common frog in Eastern Tennessee is the American Bullfrog, which you can recognize by its deep-throated croak.
Hellbenders are giant salamanders that locally go by several different names: snot otters (because of their slimy skin), water dog, mud puppy, devil dog, Allegheny alligator, and even lasagna lizard (because of their thick wrinkly skin). They are fully aquatic species and have been around for 65 million years. Unfortunately, their numbers are dwindling due to pollution and are even listed as endangered in some places. Though these are huge, scary-looking amphibians that fishermen say look like creatures from hell bent on returning, they are harmless and prefer to stay hidden on the bottom of a river under rocky overhangs.
Though aquatic life isn’t exactly cute and cuddly, it’s an interesting and beneficial part of the ecosystem and fun to learn about. While you’re in Eastern Tennessee for a wild white water rafting trip with Carolina Ocoee, find a shallow portion of the Ocoee River or any branch or stream and look for the amphibians and reptiles that make their home in and along the rivers in the beautiful Cherokee National Forest and the Great Smoky Mountains.