An aquatic animal is an animal, either vertebrate or invertebrate, which lives in water for most or all of its life. It may breathe air or extract its oxygen from that dissolved in water through specialised organs called gills, or directly through its skin. Natural environments and the animals that live in them can be categorized as aquatic (water) or terrestrial (land). Animals that move readily from water to land and vice versa are referred to as amphibians.
The term aquatic can in theory be applied to animals that live in either freshwater (freshwater animals) or saltwater (marine animals). However, the adjective marine is most commonly used for animals that live in saltwater, i.e. in oceans, seas, etc.
Aquatic animals (especially freshwater animals) are often of special concern to conservationists because of the fragility of their environments. Aquatic animals are subject to pressure from overfishing, destructive fishing, marine pollution and climate change.
Air breathing aquatic animals
In addition to water breathing animals, e.g., fishes, mollusks etc., the term "aquatic animal" can be applied to air-breathing aquatic or sea mammals such as those in the orders Cetacea (whales) and Sirenia (sea cows), which cannot survive on land, as well as to the pinnipeds (true seals, eared seals, and the walrus). The term "aquatic mammal" is also applied to four-footed mammals like the river otter (Lontra canadensis) and beavers (family Castoridae), although these are technically amphibious.
Amphibious animals, like frogs (the order Anura), while requiring water, are separated into their own environmental classification. The majority of amphibians (class Amphibia) have an aquatic larval stage, like a tadpole, but then live as terrestrial adults, and may return to the water to mate.
- "Annelids." Nonindigenous Aquatic Species. Web. 2 May 2012. <http://nas.er.usgs.gov/taxgroup/Annelids/>.
- National Invasive Species Information Center. Web. 2 May 2012. <http://www.invasivespeciesinfo.gov/aquatics/main.shtml>.