Wetlands, Wonderlands

The holidays are over, the cold winter winds blow and snow flies. The frigid air chills us and we never seem to get used to it no matter how long we live here in the North Country. In the dead of winter, thoughts of spring dance in our heads. Even with frozen land and waters there is life surviving within our wetlands. Turtles, frogs, and salamanders may hibernate within our wetlands.  They dig below the mud at the bottom of ponds and wetlands in the fall when the weather starts turning cold. Some frogs are even adapted to having their bodies frozen until spring!

With the advent of winter, wetland plants also sleep and their sleep is called senescence. Trees and other plants senesce, not hibernate. Even while in the senescent state, there is activity occurring within plants. They are getting ready for spring when they can grow, flower, and flourish. The cells in plants are still working, still growing.  It is just very slow. Winter has that effect. Some wetland plants actually do die but their seeds within the soil are ready to sprout and grow when spring arrives. Some wetland plants actually need to have their seeds go through a cold period in order to germinate. This is known as cold stratification.

Even the tiniest of living organisms- bacteria, may and do remain active within wetlands throughout the winter months. As with the other creatures found within wetlands, the cold slows their activity but bacteria still use and give off energy.

Even before spring arrives, before our wetlands warm, life begins to creep slowly back from its winter slumber. The first around February, a wood frog will sing its slow, almost imperceptible, call to find a mate. It is often in chilly waters containing ice. As the weather warms even more and March rolls into April, Chorus and Leopard frogs chime in. They are much more vocal and can often drown out the wood frogs. The Chorus and Leopard frogs can be found in the same wetlands and as many of you have already experienced, the sound can be almost deafening.

Turtles and salamanders start to emerge along with many plant species. Life within the wetland renews itself and comes alive! As the weather turns even warmer in May and June, a whole new chorus of frogs begins. Spring peepers with their distinguishable “peep, peep, peep” floating through the night air. Our American Toad, the most common sound familiar to us that live on or near wetlands calls for its mate. It sounds like “creeeek, creeeeek”. Then comes the gritty pitch of our tree frogs.  Lastly, as summer nears, the green frog, sounding like the picking of a single banjo string.

All these vocalists call while the wetland hums to life, sometimes silently, sometimes more loudly. Turtles find mates and lay their eggs in soft soil or sand, salamanders quietly find mates and deposit their eggs on plants in the wetlands. Insects emerge from wetlands and the air fills with the hum of beating wings.  Flowers bloom from spring wetland plants and the air is scented as our eyes are teased with color. Wetlands are truly our wonderlands, where our interest and curiosity can grow and thrive with as much variety as the plants and animals that inhabit these areas.

Guest Writer: Todd Udvig is the Wetland Specialist with the Washington Conservation District. He can be reached at todd.udvig@mnwcd.org or 651-275-1136 X 25.