Natural History in Arlington

Modified from Arlington Open Space Plan 1997 by Karsten E. Hartel







Overview of Fish and Wildlife: The fauna of Arlington is linked directly to the quantity, quality, and diversity of soils, water and vegetation. The relative abundance and diversity of the fauna is also very much constrained by all facets of human activity. In other words, maintenance and regulation of the use of certain areas within open spaces is crucial to Arlington's ability to enhance, preserve and enjoy its living resources.

Currently there are very few existing inventories of Arlington's fauna. Birds are probably best known due to the expertise of local observers and the relative ease with which they are inventoried (see Andrews et al, 1993). Other major groups such as Invertebrates, Reptiles, Amphibians, and Mammals are much less known. There is no doubt that virtually all of the local native fauna has drastically declined as has wildlife across all of urban North America. However, due to the nature of the town's well- planted residential areas, existing undeveloped open spaces, small wildlife corridors, and the close proximity of open spaces in neighboring towns, Arlington hosts a surprising array of wildlife compared to towns of similar size and development.

In general, what is known about birds probably represents most of the fauna; that is, where proper habitat exists, there are pockets of wildlife that have adapted to or tolerate the changes of the last three centuries. However, certain areas that appear to be prime wildlife habitat, such as the large stands of the introduced reed Phragmites communis, which has taken over much of Arlington's wetlands, offer poor wildlife habitat. In addition, it should be recognized that most wildlife does not thrive in fragmented small plots and each species requires a certain minimal sized area. It is now recognized that even paths or roads through certain habitats can change the species assemblage.


Cite Open Space Plan here

Andrews, J.W. 1993. Breeding bird survey for the Great Meadows. Pub. No. 211. Mystic River Watershed Assoc. 22pp.

Invertebrates: Thousands of species of invertebrates inhabit Arlington, but none have been well surveyed. Because these animals are the part of the fauna that binds ecosystems together, they are incredibly important. The most common invertebrates are insects. Arlington's fauna range from the obvious butterflies [eg. Monarch Danaus plexipus, Viceroy Limenitis archippus, Cabbage Pieris rapae butterflies, and Black Papilio poluxenes and Tiger Papilio glaucus swallowtails], to the dragonflies (Odonata), to the many other pest and non-pest species. However, even the abundance and distribution of common insects in Arlington is unknown. Numbers of species of spiders (Arachnida), Crustacea (crayfish and shrimp), and Mollusca (snails and clams) are far less well known. One invertebrate, the Mystic Valley amphipodCrangonyx aberrans, a state listed species, is known from Lexington Great Meadows and may be found in other areas (Smith 1983, 1991). This animal's world-wide range is restricted to eastern Massachusetts.


Smith, D.G. 1983. A new species of fresh-water Gammaroidean amphipod (Crangonyctidae) from southeastern New England. Trans. Amer. Microscopical Soc. 102:355-365.

Smith, D.G. 1991. Keys to the freshwater macroinvertebrates of Massachusetts. Amherst, MA. 236pp.

Fishes: The Mystic watershed has very few species of fishes; this was true even historically. Hartel et al (in prep) have documented only 31 species (21 native and 10 introduced) in the small drainages of the north shore of Massachusetts. There may be fewer than 15 species in the Arlington area while there are 85 species known state wide. This is due to the geology, the relatively small size of the Mystic drainage, and certainly due to the changes in the quality of the streams in Arlington. While not listed state-wide, bridle shiner Notropis bifrenatus and the anadromous alewife Alosa pseudoherengus have declined drastically in the Cambridge/Arlington area. Alewife currently migrate up Little River and the lower parts of Mill Brook from the Mystic River in small numbers.

The town waters support a limited sport- and ice-fishery at the major waterbodies. Large carp Cyprinus carpio, bluegill Lepomis macrochirus and pumpkinseed Lepomis gibbosus sunfishes are common, and even 2-3 pound largemouth bass Micropterus salmoides turn up from time to time. The infertile hybrid tiger-musky Esox lucius X masquinongy) has been introduced into Spy Pond as a trophy fish and as biological control for overpopulated sunfishes. Spy Pond was first stocked at least as early as 1918 and reclaimed in 1957 to eliminated so-called "trash" species. A small recreational fishery, especially for children, has been started in Hill's Pond at Menotomy Rocks.

No state or federally listed fishes are found in Arlington.


Hartel, K., D. Halliwell, and A. Launer. (in press for 1999). Inland fishes of Massachusetts. Massachusetts Audubon Society, Lincoln.

Reptiles and Amphibians: Because of the secretive nature of this group of animals, very little is known about their occurrence in Arlington. The common species that exist in populated areas can be easily found in Arlington: eastern red-backed salamander Plethodon cinereus, bullfrog Rana catesbeiana, green frog Rana clamitans, snapping turtle Chelydra serpentina, and painted turtle Chrysemys picta. An interactive guide to Massachusetts snakes is available.

Birds: Just over 200 species of birds have been recorded in Arlington over the last 20 years by careful observers (see Andrews et al 1993, Appendix X) and a full Arlington check-list is available . Close to 60 species breed in Arlington. The most abundant are those that have adapted to the urban habitats. European starling Sturnus vulgaris , pigeon Columba livia, and house sparrow Passer domesticus are very numerous but are much more common downtown or in disrupted areas. The birds that can be commonly found in almost all areas are Northern Cardinal Cardinalis cardinalis, Blue Jay Cyanocitta cristata, Tufted Titmouse Parus bicolor, Black-capped Chickadee Parus atricapillus, White-breasted Nuthatch Sitta carolinensis, Northern Mockingbird Mimus polyglottos, Downy Woodpecker Picoides pubescens, House Finch Carpodacus mexicanus, American Robin Turdus migratorius, and Mourning Dove Zenaida macroura; all breed in Arlington. Others species like Northern Flicker Colaptes auratus, Chimney Swift Chaetura pelagica, Eastern Kingbird Tyrannus tyrannus, Great-crested Flycatcher Myiarchus crinitus, House Wren Troglodytes aedon, Gray Catbird Dumetella carolinensis, and Northern Oriole Icterus galbula breed but migrate south for the winter. All of these species are insect eaters, consumming thousands of insects and worms over the summer season.

The wet open-spaces and ponds attract large numbers of birds, especially during migration. Twenty-five species of ducks visit Spy Pond, the Mystic Lakes, or Arlington Reservoir; the most spectacular and common are Hooded Lophodytes cucullatus and American Merganser Mergus merganser, Ring-necked Duck Aythya collaris, Wood Duck Aix sponsa and Ruddy Duck Oxyura jamaicensis. A dozen species of sandpipers and plovers can be found at the water's edge, especially around the flats at Arlington Reservoir and Hill's Pond; Spotted Actitis macularia, Least Calidris minutilla, Pectoral Calidris melanotos, Semipalmated Calidris pusilla, and Solitary Tringa solitaria sandpipers along with Greater Tringa melanoleuca and Lesser Tringa flavipes yellowlegs are found yearly. Great Blue Ardea herodias, Green Butorides striatus and Black-crowned Nycticorax nycticorax herons are quite common. All of these require relatively clean aquatic habitat with abundant prey items.

No state or federally listed bird species currently breed in Arlington (Andrews et al 1993, Veit & Peterson 1993). However, during migration the listed Bald Eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus, Northern Harrier Circus cyaneus, and Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus have been recorded occasionally. Arlington has breeding populations of the uncommon Black-billed Cuckoo Coccyzus erythropthalmus and Orchard Oriole Icterus spurius. Fifty-three bird species, many of which require open meadow or edge, nest at Lexington Great Meadows (Andrews, 1993).


Andrews, J.W. 1993. Breeding bird survey for the Great Meadows. Pub. No. 211. Mystic River Watershed Assoc. 22pp.

Andrews, J., D. Arvidson, C. Floyd, K. Hartel, M. Rines, and L. Taylor. 1993. Birds in Arlington - A checklist and guide. Arlington Conservation Commission. 8 pp.

Viet, R. and W. Petersen. 1993. Birds of Massachusetts. Mass. Audubon Soc., Lincoln. 514pp.

Mammals: Many of typical mammals that survive and sometime even thrive in urban settings occur in all areas of Arlington; included are Virginia opossum Didelphis virginiana, raccoon Procyon lotor, striped skunk Mephitis mephitis, gray squirrel Sciurus carolinensis, house mouse Mus musculus, and Norway rat Rattus norvegicus. Other species, northern short-tailed shrew Blarina brevicauda, little brown bat Myotis lucifugus, eastern chipmunk Tamias striatus, white-footed mouse Peromyscus leucopus, eastern cottontail Sylvilagus floridanus, are found less frequently. Certain species may be common but are found only in restricted habitats; muskrat Ondatra zibethicus in aquatic areas and meadow vole Microtus pennsylvanicus in open meadows. Larger mammals are generally absent from Arlington although a white tailed deer Odocoileus virginianus was killed on Route 2 near Spy Pond in 1993.

No state or federally listed mammal species are currently known from Arlington.

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