Table of Contents What is a Wetland? Types of Wetlands Why are Wetlands Important? How Can We Preserve the Wetlands? Are You Ready for a Wetlands Self-Check? Animals in the Wetlands Can You Classify These Animals?
Table of Contents, Cont. Plant Life in the Wetlands Plant Basics It’s Time for a Self-Check Appendix
What is a Wetland? The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service defines a wetland by three characteristics. 1. “A wetland is land that is covered by water or has waterlogged soil during the growing season.”
2. “A wetland has hydric soil(soil that is so waterlogged, it does not have enough oxygen for upland plants to grow).”
3. “Wetlands usually have special plants that grow in hydric soil called hydro- phytes(cattails and sawgrass).” (Chaland, 1992)
Types of Wetlands Scientists group wetlands into two categories, Inland wetlands that contain fresh water and coastal wetlands that contain salt water. Inland wetlands may be wet temporarily(30 days or less), seasonally(6 months or less), or permanently(year-round). Marshes, swamps, vernal pools, and bogs are the most common inland wetlands.
Coast wetlands are located along seacoasts. They contain salt water. The plant and animal life in coastal wetlands are very different from those in fresh water. Saltwater and swamps, estuaries(where freshwater rivers join the ocean), mudflats(unvegetated areas exposed when the tide goes out), lagoons, and coastal bays are all coastal wetlands.
Inland Wetlands Swamps are soggy and forested wetlands with many trees and woody shrubs. They can be permanent or temporary areas of land. Marshes are shallow areas of standing water which are high after storms and low during droughts. They are rich with non-woody plants such as cattails, sedges, and grasses. They can be permanently or seasonally wet.
Vernal Pools are temporary wetland areas that dry up in the early summer. They are an impor- tant breeding ground for many unique insects, moths, and amphibians. Bogs are wetlands that are acidic and have low oxygenated water. They are often covered by a variety of floating aquatic vegetation, and their bottom is covered with decaying vegetation.
Coastal Wetlands Estuaries are where fresh water mixes with salt water. They are one of the most productive communities on Earth. There is more life and varieties of life there than most other places. An estuary is also known as the “cradle of the ocean.” Millions of saltwater fish and shellfish live there. Adults lay their eggs, or spawn, there, and the young fish, called fry, stay there until they are large enough to survive in the open waters.
Mudflats are large areas in an estuary which fill with water during high tide. As the tide subsides, nutritious sediments are left behind. These sedi- ments are used by many different invertebrates. These mudflats are exposed during low tide, and the animals that live there, burrow into the mud. Clams, tube worms, crabs and mollusks are just a few of these. Saltwater marshes, also called tidal marshes, form in estuaries, on islands, on offshore sandbars, on islands, and also on spits, which are narrow points of land that jut out into the water. Grasses and
other herbaceous plants that have adapted to life in salt water live here. These include eelgrass, saltmarsh cordgrass, pickleweed, and saltgrass. Fiddler crabs, herons, ribbed mussels, periwinkles, oysters,and fish, such as silversides, flounder, and bluefish, are just some of the animals found in this area. Saltwater swamps, which are similar to rain forests, have large trees and jungly growth. The kinds of plants and animals that live in this area are determined by the amount of salt and tides.
Swamp Bog Marsh Vernal Pool
Why are Wetlands Important? Wetlands are very important to the ecology of the world. They serve not only their permanent bird populations but transients as well. They also provide a habitat for about one third of the endangered animals and plants in the United States
Wetlands are also used for waste management. During the rainy seasons, they absorb the excess water from the swollen rivers and streams, which helps to prevent the flooding of homes and crops. During the dry seasons, they give water back to the rivers. They also have the ability to store certain kinds of river pollutants until they can be absorbed by the environment.
How Can We Preserve the Wetlands? Saving our wetlands is essential. Wetlands protect us from floods because swamps and marshes store water from rain and snow. Wetlands are threatened by human activities. Many wetlands have been filled in and turned into airports, homes, and shopping centers. Some wetlands have been drained to use the water for sprinklers and watering plants.
Wetlands support many different types of living things. This is called bio-diversity. Keeping the earth’s bio-diversity at its natural level maintains the relationship with all living things. If one species of plant or animal dis- appear from an area, the bio-diversity may fall. Other living things which depend on the lost species may also disappear.
Are you ready for a Wetlands self-check? Directions: Complete the following by typing in your answer. Then, print out your self-check paper. ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 1. What is a wetland? ___________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________ 2. What are the two groups of wetlands? ____________ ____________ 3. Name two kinds of freshwater wetlands. _________ _________ 4. Name at least two reasons why wetlands are important. _______________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________
5. Label each of the following: _______ _______ _______ _______ _______ 6. What can we do to preserve our wetlands?___________________ _______________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________
Here is a map of the percentages of wetland areas which have been destroyed in the past 200 years. Does it look like we have a problem in the US? Which state has lost the most wetland areas? Which has lost the least? How many states have lost 50% or more of their wetland areas? Alaska has lost 0.1% of it’s wetland areas, can you write that as a fraction?
Animal Life in the Wetlands
Wetlands provide an environment for many different kinds of animals such as mosquitoes, dragonflies, beetles, butterflies,and many other types of insects. Frogs and salamanders are found in most wetlands. Some even have snakes, turtles, and other reptiles.
Frogs and salamanders are found in most wetlands. Some even have snakes, turtles, and other reptiles.
There are also many types of mammals that live in wetlands. Some of these are deer, bears, and rabbits. Muskrats and beavers also live in the marshes.
Our wetlands are also very important for a variety of birds. Some of them will spend their entire life there. Egrets, cormorants, and herons are just some of them.
Birds Birds are the only animals with feathers. Their feathers weigh very little, but without them, they could not survive. They allow flight, provide insulation, and keep rain and snow away from their skin. Some are very colorful and others allow the bird to blend in with their surroundings.
Red-Winged Blackbird Agelaius phoenicus The red-winged blackbird male is glossy black in color with red shoulder patches bordered by yellow. The females and young ones are brown with streaks. They range in length from 7-9 1/2 inches.
Great Blue Heron Ardea herodias The Great Blue Heron is a tall, grayish bird with a white face, yellow bill, and spots of black on its shoulders, belly, and crown. Its broad wings have a slow wingbeat and their neck folds in during flight. They are 39-52 inches in height.
Amphibians Amphibians are vertebrates, but they do not have hair, scales, feathers, or claws. All amphibians have glands in their skin that allow the production of mucus and other secretions that help to keep their skin surface moist. During some part of their life, they have gills, like fish, that help them breathe underwater.
The term amphibian means two lives. It refers to the many amphibians that begin their life in water or in a fluid-filled egg sac, breathing through gills, and later leaving the water to become land- inhabitating adults. Some amphibians do not live “two lives”. Rather, they spend their whole lives either on land or in water. All North American amphibians hatch from eggs, go through a larvae stage, change into juveniles, and then mature into adults.
Red Spotted Salamander Notophthalmus viridescens The Red Spotted Salamander(Eastern Newt) lives in the water during its younger years, and then it spends two to seven years on land as Red Efts. Thus, they go through two distinct stages.
The adults are olive on the top and yellowish on the bottom, with black-outlined red spots above and small black spots all over its body. The Efts are reddish-orange all over with black- outlined red spots on their backs. They range from 2 1/2- 5 inches in length.
Pickeral Frog Rana palustris The Pickeral Frog is brown with large rectangular spots on its back. It is yellow or orange on its belly and on the undersides of its thighs. It is 1 3/4-3 1/2 inches in length.
Reptiles There are four main groups of reptiles: crocodilians(alligators and crocodiles), turtles, tuatara(a lizardlike reptile from New Zealand), and squamata(lizards and snakes).
Reptiles come in a variety of different shapes and sizes, but they all have one feature in common. They all have a skin covering of dry, horny scales. These scales protect their body and keep them from drying out. All reptiles can carry their bodies close to the ground and, except for snakes and a few other types, have four limbs.
Eastern Painted Turtle Chrysemys picta picta The Painted Turtle is a small turtle with a very smooth, olive to black upper shell with red marks along the edge. The lower shell is unhinged. Their length is 4-9 1/2 inches.
Mammals Most mammals have four legs and a tail. They share a number of important traits, that differentiate them from other animals. Mammals spend a lot of time raising and training their young. Almost all of them give birth to live young, rather than laying eggs, as other animals do. The females are the only animals on earth that make milk for their young.
Mammals are the only animals that have hair. Their hair, or fur as it is often called, protects them from wind, sun, rain, cold, insects, and other things. Most mammal’s fur coat has two distinct layers: an undercoat of short dense hair and an outer coat of longer, stiff hair. The mammal’s brain is larger and more developed than any other animal. Most mammals have mem- ories and they are able to learn new things, which allows them to learn to survive in new places and situations. This is called adapting.
Beaver Castor canadensis The American Beaver is a large reddish-brown rodent with a black paddle-shaped tail. When it swims, it makes a big V in the water. Its body is 24-36 inches in length, and its tail measures 12-18 inches. It weighs 44-60 lbs.
Common Muskrat Ondatra zibethicus The Common Muskrat is a glossy reddish- brown rodent. It has a long, pointed tail that is almost hairless. It also cuts a V in the water with its head when it swims, swinging its tail from side to side or arching it upward with the edge out of the water. Their body measures 9-12 inches in length and their tail is 7-12 inches long. They weigh 1-4 lbs.
Raccoon Procyon lotor The Common Raccoon is a gray nocturnal mammal with a black face mask and a bushy ringed tail. The body of the raccoon is 16-21 inches long, and its tail is 8-16 inches long. It weighs 12-48 lbs.