North Carolina has a wide diversity of ecosystems and species. From elk to red wolves, from Venus fly traps to bobwhite quail, the state is home to more than 825 species of fish and wildlife, 175 species of butterflies, and over 625 flora species.
The “top nine” list obviously doesn’t include all the special places the state offers hunters, anglers, campers, paddlers, hikers, photographers or birders, but it tries to capture a cross-section of North Carolina’s beauty and uniqueness.
A brochure highlighting just what makes the Little Tennessee River so special suggests a novel way to explore the mountain aquatic ecosystem: by donning a snorkel mask and glimpsing life below the surface.
“It’s a fantastic place to go ‘fish-watching.’ It’s like bird-watching in the water,” according to the Wildlife Federations’ write-up on the river. “Pull on a dive mask and a snorkel, and you can slowly ease your way into riffles and the heads and tails of pools and check out some of the most brilliantly colored wildlife on display.”
In particular, from April to June, hundreds of fish can be seen swarming over gravel mounds built up on the river bottom as spawning grounds by the fish themselves. The phenomenon is also a testament to how interdependent species are to one another in the aquatic ecosystem. The large gravel nests built by river chubs in turn attract a host of other fish.
“Scientists have counted at least 13 other fish species that spawn over bluehead chub nests (there may be many more) and at least one, the gorgeous yellowfin shiner, rare in North Carolina, appears to require chub nests for successful spawning,” according to the Wildlife Federation.
Other spots on the “top nine” wildlife list include:
• Green River Game Land, mountains
• Wilson Creek, mountains
• Stone Mountain State Park/Thurmond Chatham Game Land Complex, mountains
• Cowan’s Ford Wildlife Refuge, Piedmont
• Hanging Rock State Park, Piedmont
• Roanoke River, coast
• Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge-Pungo Unit, coast
• Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, coast