Animals in Great Lakes

Updated: September 23, 2022
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Below you can find a complete list of Great Lakes animals. We currently track 29 animals in Great Lakes and are adding more every day!

The abundance of freshwater ecosystems amongst the Great Lakes makes them a beautiful place for many unique animals. These lakes are primarily home to fish, but the fish attract many mammals and birds that like to seek out their food in these areas. The Great Lakes border areas in both the United States and Canada.

The National Animal of the Great Lakes

The Great Lakes are not a state or a nation; instead, they include Lake Superior, Lake Michigan, Lake Huron, Lake Erie, and Lake Ontario. Each one connects with different states.

Lake Superior is connected to Wisconsin, Michigan, and Minnesota, while Lake Michigan connects with Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan. Lake Huron also connects to Michigan, though it also connects to Ontario, Canada. Lake Erie connects with Michigan (just like the other lakes), but it also connects to Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, and Ontario. Lake Ontario only borders Ontario and New York. Essentially, all of the Great Lakes border Canada, the United States, or both.

While Canada’s national animal is the beaver, the United States is unique in that it has two national animals – the bald eagle and the American bison.

Where to Find the Top Wild Animals in the Great Lakes

The freshwater ecosystems in the Great Lakes provide an incredible place for many animals to live. Each of the lakes has different wildlife, including:

  • Black bears – Black bears are found in Lake Superior, spending a lot of time in the North Shore Highlands.
  • Yellow perch – Yellow perch is one of the most common fish in Lake Erie, even though the area is known for the abundance of toxic cyanobacteria. These fish are part of one of the largest commercial fisheries in the area.
  • Salmon – Lake Michigan is rich with salmon, but there are many unique species in the area. The most common salmon in this lake include the Chinook salmon, Coho salmon, pink salmon, and Atlantic salmon.
  • Walleye – The Walleye is a fish that primarily survives in warm water, which is why it is often found in Lake Huron.
  • Mute swan – The mute swan is fairly common near Lake Ontario. They prefer areas that offer inland marshes, lakes, and rivers.

There are about 177 species of fish across the five Great Lakes.

The Most Dangerous Animals in the Great Lakes Today

The most dangerous predator in the Great Lakes is the sea lamprey, which was actually introduced as an invasive species. Primarily, it goes after a sports fish called the lake trout, often wounding them as they kill them off. It is also attracted to the blood and bodily fluids of any creature. However, the area is still the home to dangerous wildlife that consumers should watch out for.

Some dangerous wildlife that have been reported near the Great Lakes Basin include:

  • Piranhas – These fish have teeth that are fairly similar to that of a human. In July 2016 the Department of Natural Resources found a pacu in the Great Lakes. Pacu have human-like teeth and are actually vegetarians.
  • Snakeheads – Snakeheads also have incredibly sharp teeth. Their 3-foot-long body makes it even more intimidating, especially considering that the fins are strong enough to allow them to “walk” on land for up to a week.
  • Bull sharks – Though they are extremely uncommon, bull sharks have been known to accidentally find their way in periodically, sometimes swimming into the Mississippi River as well.

It’s worth noting that while bull sharks are capable of living in freshwater, the Great Lakes are generally too cold for them to survive and reports of them in the Great Lakes have been unconfirmed or hoaxes. They have been spotted in the Mississippi River as far north as St. Louis, however.

Endangered Animals in the Great Lakes

As lush and clean as the Great Lakes are, the freshwater ecosystem has many fish and other species that are at a great risk of becoming extinct. These endangered species include:

  • Longear sunfish
  • Lake sturgeon
  • Pugnose shiner
  • Blue pike

Part of the reason that so many fish are endangered or at risk is due to the introduction of non-native species. Sometimes, this introduction to the area is not intentional, but it causes a disruption in the species’ ability to defend itself against the existing predators in the lakes. Carp, sea lamprey and goby have all been introduced to the area.

Unfortunately, several fish species have not survived their time in the Great Lakes, leading them to become extinct. For instance, a salmonid fish called the Blackfin Cisco used to freely roam the Great Lakes, but three invasive species plus overfishing led it to become extinct.

Read about:

Great Lakes Animals

American Alligator

They have two sets of eyelids!


Builds a dam from sticks and leaves!


Not all birds are able to fly!


Has loud cow-like calls!


There are thought to be up 17,500 species!


There are nearly 3,000 different species!


There are 93 different crab groups

Crappie Fish

The crappie is one of the most popular freshwater fish in North America.


It's larvae are carnivorous!


Rows of tiny plates line their teeth!


Eels can be a mere few inches long to 13 feet!


Respire through the gills on their heads!


There are more than 240,000 different species!

Goby Fish

Some Goby species are toxic.


There are 29 different species!


There are an estimated 30 million species!


Inhabits wetlands and woodlands worldwide!


Not related to the eel


Can remain in the water for up to 2 minutes!


Returns upstream every year to spawn

Sea Eagle

The sea eagle tends to mate for life with a single partner


Some gulls are capable of using tools


Males give birth to up to 1,000 offspring!


There are 2,000 different species worldwide!


There are nearly 1,000 different species!


Large species can swallow whole salmon

Tiger Salamander

Found across the North American wetlands!


Some species of aquatic turtles can get up to 70 percent of their oxygen through their butt.

Zebra Mussels

A female zebra mussel can deposit 30,000 to 1,000,000 eggs each year!

Great Lakes Animals List

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About the Author

AZ Animals is a growing team of animals experts, researchers, farmers, conservationists, writers, editors, and -- of course -- pet owners who have come together to help you better understand the animal kingdom and how we interact.

Animals in Great Lakes FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

What kind of animals live in the Great Lakes?

The Great Lakes are filled with animals that are native to the region, including mammals like the black bear, elk, white-tailed deer, and beaver. The areas often have many native bird species (like herons, bald eagles, snowy owls, and whooping cranes) as well.

What is the most dangerous animal in the Great Lakes?

In Lake Michigan alone, you might seek piranhas and sea lampreys, which are incredibly dangerous.

How many species live in the Great Lakes?

With 3,500 species that call the Great Lakes their home, it is the largest freshwater ecosystem found at any place in the entire world.

Are there sharks in the Great Lakes?

Not successfully. While there are many intimidating creatures that reside in the Great Lakes, sharks have no way of getting to there to begin with. Multiple barriers prevent their excursion to the lakes, like Niagara Falls and multiple dams. According to researchers, the only type of shark that could possibly survive in the Great Lakes is the bull shark, and there have been a few sightings. However, the cold weather during the winter and minimal food would make living there significantly difficult.