Marshes are at their best in spring, once the floods and freezing weather of the past season have passed by. Spring breathes new life into marshes, plants shoot up fresh leaves, and insects become more active after winter dormancy.
Marshes include trees such as willows, aspen, birch, and flowers that attract butterflies, mosquitoes, and stick insects. Marshland birds, including the Greenshank, Redshank, Canada goose, and warblers, can often be seen around marshes looking for food. The country you are in will depend on the types of reptiles you may see.
If you want to know more about some of the wildlife you can see in spring, please read on.
Most plants that live in marshes have their roots in the water throughout the year. While the entire plant may be underneath the water during winter, new shoots are sent up to the surface to float or grow into the air when spring comes.
One plant, the tiny frogbit, loses its leaves during the winter months and lies in the mud. The tiny frogbit floats to the top when the warmer spring weather comes and produces new leaves. The flowering rush starts to produce long stalks which will hold its pink cup-shaped flowers in July. The marsh helps the stalks grow tall enough to hold their flowers above other plants, ensuring they are pollinated.
Water lilies can take over some marsh areas, bringing a variety of insects to the area. If you see water lilies early in the morning, you may notice that their flowers contain several dead insects. These insects didn’t get out the night before when the flowers closed.
Willow trees can often be found in marshes as they are hardy enough to grow in damp, often waterlogged ground. Swamp cypress can often be seen rising, while birch trees and aspen signify that the marsh is drying up and turning into woodland.
Most insects don’t live throughout winter, and only their eggs ensure that future generations survive when spring comes. Food is scarce during winter, so most adults do not survive. The eggs hatch in spring, but they take some time to become adults.
Butterfly eggs are usually laid in areas where they cannot be eaten and protected from the harsh winter weather. While some species lay eggs that will hatch after a few days, others will last winter before hatching.
Caterpillars hatch from butterfly eggs and feed on the eggs before transforming into butterflies after entering the pupae stage. It is possible to spot caterpillars and butterfly eggs in spring.
Some insects are tough to find, such as stick insects. These look like a plant stem or twig and can be challenging to spot. Stick insects are excellent at staying still and will attack their prey when it comes too close using their front legs.
Many small insects can be found around marshes, including some of the most annoying. Mosquitoes can almost always be found around marshes as they love stagnant water. There are 600 species of marsh fly worldwide, and it should come as no surprise that their primary habitat is around the fetid water.
Dragonflies and damselflies can be seen flying around the top of the water, looking for their next meal of mosquitoes and midges.
Marshland birds are unique as they have some excellent adaptations for their habitat. Many, such as the Snipe and Redshank, have long legs that allow them to wade through water and have long bills to catch food.
The Snipe uses its bill to sort through the mud to find insect larvae and worms. Even if they cannot see their prey, the bill is sensitive enough to find prey. Others, including the Canada goose, have webbed feet for swimming through deep water.
Warblers, including the Marsh warbler, Grasshopper warbler and Cetti’s warbler, are excellent at keeping themselves out of sight in reedbeds. Although difficult to see because of their colouring, their calls can often be heard coming from the reeds at the water’s edge.
If you see a bird running around quickly in shallow water, it may be a Greenshank. Greenshanks feed on fish, and they can be seen using a stabbing motion with their bill to catch their prey. They sometimes have to swim as they go out of their depth in their excitement. They can also be seen feeding on tiny shrimp and worms that they find in the mud.
Marshes attract a lot of amphibians as they prefer to live in damp areas, with many laying their eggs in the water.
Frogs come in all shapes and sizes, with Marsh frogs being the largest in Europe. They survive on a diet of earthworms, slugs, flies, spiders, and damselflies. They hibernate during winter but become active again in spring. They can often be found around the edges of water but, if disturbed, will move into deeper water.
The Common frog can also be found around marshy areas. They come out to breed and lay their eggs in the water in spring, but they may lay their eggs in warmer regions as early as January. Their eggs are easy to spot and contain up to 2,000 eggs in one raft. Common frogs can often be seen around marshes trying to cool off.
There are over 8,000 species of frog worldwide but only about 60 species of toad. Many of these can also be found around marshes but prefer to come out during dusk, finding their food at night.
Large numbers of toads will come together before the females lay their eggs in the water during the breeding season. The number of eggs laid by toads depends on the species, with one European green toad able to lay up to 15,000 eggs.
Which animals you find in a marsh depends on your country. There are relatively few reptiles in the United Kingdom, and seeing them in wetlands is not that common.
However, it is entirely different in the United States and other places, with many large reptiles calling marshes home. American alligators live in rivers, swamps, and marshes and can often be seen in Florida and other southern states.
The marsh crocodile is also known as the mugger crocodile and can be found in marshes from southern Iran down to the Indian subcontinent. A male marsh crocodile can grow upwards of 8 metres long.
Crocodiles and alligators aren’t the only large reptiles found around marshes. The green anaconda, the largest snake globally, can grow up to about 8.5 metres and lives in South America. They prefer the water as it is easier to swim due to its enormous size.
Small mammals such as the water shrew and water vole can be found, while otters can also be seen.
In North America, muskrats, shrews, lemmings, and voles can all be found, while beavers are well known for building dams around waterways.
With a wide variety of food available in marshy areas, it should be no surprise that American marshes also have a wide variety of predators. Bobcats, cougars, foxes, and mink can all feed in marshes.