Learn about biodiversity conservation, birds, fish, insects, mammals, mollusks and crayfish, reptiles and amphibians, plants and natural communities through the pages below.
Nebraska is a large, deceptively diverse state. Nebraska is a mixing ground where mid-continental species merge. Eastern woodland species like wild columbine are found along our eastern border, while bighorn sheep scramble through the western escarpments, and meadowlarks sing throughout Nebraska’s grasslands. Shorebirds and waterfowl rely on our many wetlands during migration.
As stewards for the next generation, it is our responsibility to ensure the treasures that were handed to us by nature and our predecessors are still here for future Nebraskans.
From eastern oak woodlands to western pine forests, Nebraska is home to more than 400 species of birds, including more than 200 breeding species. Situated between wintering areas to the south and wintering areas to the north, Nebraska is a critically important stopover and staging area, primarily during spring migration, for millions of waterfowl, hundreds of thousands of shorebirds and half a million Sandhill Cranes. Nebraska also provides important habitat for six threatened or endangered species.
Nebraska is home to more than 100 species of fish, 78 of which are presumed to be native. Nebraska was originally a land of streams and rivers, but immigrants began building dams almost as soon as they arrived, resulting in thousands of ponds, lakes and reservoirs. Fish stocking into these ponds and lakes, which began in the 1880’s, continues to this day. So, in addition to the native species we now have an additional 25 introduced fishes as well as six exotic species.
It is estimated that there are upwards of 30,000 species of insects in Nebraska. Nebraska’s insect communities are made up of many species groups including moths and butterflies; beetles and true bugs; grasshoppers and crickets; dragonflies and damselflies; ants and bees; flies; and many others. Like plants, insects inhabit every habitat on the planet, from streams and oceans to the driest deserts. Also like plants, insects are the basis of the food chain, forming a prey base that produces billions of tons of food that other species are dependent on.
There are more than 80 species of mammals native to Nebraska. They range in size from a bull elk, which can be 5 feet high at the shoulder and weigh more than 700 pounds, to the least shrew, which may be 2 ½ inches long and weigh 1/10 of an ounce. Nebraska mammals are adapted to a wide variety of habitats. Some, like the pronghorn, are runners adapted to escaping predators on the open prairie. Others, like the river otter, are exceptional swimmers.
Mollusks and crayfish
The mollusks of Nebraska include snails and freshwater mussels. Recent work has determined that 31 species of freshwater snails have been found in Nebraska. There are more than 400 species of crayfish in North America, five of which can be found in Nebraska. Crayfish are an important component of the biological community of a body of water.
Reptiles and amphibians
Collectively reptiles and amphibians are called herptiles. The native herptiles of Nebraska are made up of 14 species of amphibians and 49 species of reptiles. Eleven species of frogs and toads and three species of salamanders make up the amphibians of the state. The reptiles include nine species of turtles, 10 species of lizards and 30 species of snakes. There are four species of venomous snakes in the state.
Nebraska’s nearly 1,500 species of native plants occupy habitats ranging from eastern Nebraska tallgrass prairies to Sandhill wetlands to dry rocky outcrops in the Panhandle. Though many of these species are common and widespread, many are restricted to unique habitats such as Sandhill fens and alkaline marshes. Nearly 400 plant species are considered at-risk in the state, while only seven species are listed as federally or state threatened or endangered.
Nebraska truly is a prairie state. Prior to Euro-American settlement, nearly 95 percent of the state was covered by prairie, and less than five percent by woodlands and wetlands. The Nebraska Natural Heritage Program has defined 83 native plant community types for Nebraska – 48 upland types and 35 wetland types.