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Home The River Basin People and the River Governance Resource Management
The Limpopo River Basin
Climate and Weather
Water Quality
Ecology and Biodiversity
 Aquatic Ecology
 Building Blocks
 Aquatic Habitats
 Life in Aquatic Ecosystems
 Food Chains and Webs
 Biomass and Production
 Classification of Organisms
 Fish Species of the Limpopo
 Factors Affecting Ecosystems
 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment
Sub-basin Summaries



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Aquatic Organisms: Vertebrates  

All animals that have a backbone are known as vertebrates, including fish, amphibians, reptiles, mammals, and birds.


Fish display every major feeding type:

  • Herbivorous fish feed on periphyton or macrophytes, or may even filter phytoplankton from the water
  • Carnivorous fish feed on molluscs, worms, insects, zooplankton, and other fish
  • Omnivorous fish may feed on specific types of prey, or feed indiscriminately on nearly anything they can consume

Due to this diversity in modes of feeding, different fish can occupy very different places in a food web.

Similarly, some fish occupy very specific habitats while others can be found in a wide variety of rivers, lakes and reservoirs. The distribution depends on many factors, including oxygen concentration, temperature, the presence of macrophytes, the availability of suitable substrate for spawning, and current speed. Changes in a habitat (such as the reduction of flooding due to damming) can favour some types of fish, and disadvantage others.

For a full list of species commonly found in the Limpopo River basin, please refer to the Fish Species of the Limpopo River basin page.

Moggel (Labeo capensis).
Source: Angler's Haven
( click to enlarge )

According to Mheen (1997), 18 introduced species of fish have established populations in the rivers of the Limpopo basin.  These species include:

  1. Rock catfish - Austroglanis sclateri
  2. Bluegill sunfish - Lepomis macrochirus
  3. Largemouth bass - Micropterus salmoides
  4. Smallmouth bass - M. dolomieu
  5. Nemwe - S. robustus jallae
  6. Brownspot largemouth - S. thumbergi
  7. Greenhead tilapia - O. macrochir
  8. Nile tilapia - O. niloticus
  9. Zambezi happy - Pharyngochromis acuticeps
  10. Smallmouth yellowfish - Barbus aeneus
  11. Common carp - Cyprinus carpio
  12. Silver carp - Hypophthalmichthys molitrix
  13. Moggel - Labeo capensis
  14. Perch - Perca fluviatilis
  15. Mosquitofish - Gambusia affinis
  16. Swordtail - Xiphophorus helleri
  17. Brown trout - Salmo trutta
  18. Rainbow trout - Oncorhynchus mykiss


Amphibians are cold-blooded vertebrates that generally live out their juvenile stages in aquatic environments and then move onto land as adults; however, some amphibians remain aquatic for their entire life. The most familiar amphibians are frogs and toads.

When amphibians transform from juvenile to adult, they often shift their diet. Tadpoles, for example, are usually herbivorous, consuming periphyton or macrophytes, but adult frogs are carnivorous, feeding on animals such as insects, worms, snails, or nearly any other animal they can swallow whole. Frog tadpoles are an important food source for some fish. In addition, aquatic birds and some reptiles (such as water snakes) prey upon the adults.

Because amphibians depend on water and warmer temperatures, they are most active in the summer and often hibernate on land in the winter.


Unlike amphibians, reptiles are largely terrestrial. In the Limpopo River basin, they include turtles, snakes and crocodiles. As they are also cold-blooded, reptiles depend on environmental conditions to regulate their body temperature – they are more active in the summer and often hibernate during the winter. Reptiles lay eggs on land, and it must be warm enough for eggs to hatch and grow.

Reptiles have a thick skin that allows them to tolerate dry conditions, and hence are not as dependent on water as amphibians. However, some reptiles spend large amounts of time in water and feed there. Most reptiles, including those that feed in fresh water, are predatory and capture a variety of prey.

A Nile Crocodile in Mashatu, Botswana.
Source: Hatfield 2010
( click to enlarge )



Explore the sub-basins of the Limpopo River

Explore the interactions of living organisms in aquatic environments

Examine how the hydrologic cycle moves water through and around the earth

Tour video scenes along the Limpopo related to The River Basin Theme