As the old saying goes, "You learn something new every day!"
Today, I went on a Champagne Cajun Swamp Tour on Lake Martin in Louisiana. It was absolutely breathtaking. I saw myriad wildlife, numerous alligators (I counted 42!), and the most beautiful trees my eyes have ever beheld. I also learned an incredible amount about swamp life, and I thought I'd share with you some tidbits our tour guide, Allan, shared with us:
1. "Swamp" literally means "flooded forest." It's different from a marsh, which is made up more so of tall grass and mud. It's also different from a bayou, which is a slowly flowing river.
2. In a swamp, the water is clean from the hydrilla plant (which filters the water). There are trees that grow out of the water, which are often bald cypress trees and tupelo gum trees.
3. The bald cypress tree is the state tree of Louisiana, and it is the only coniferous tree that loses its needles in the winter.
4. The tupelo gum tree repels mosquitoes, so (contrary to popular belief) you will never get bitten by a mosquito in a true swamp.
5. Spanish moss sometimes grows on these trees. It doesn't hinder the growth of the trees in any way; in fact, Spanish moss gets all its nutrients from the air. It actually helps the trees retain moisture.
6. The trees in a swamp have roots that are as long as the tree is tall above water. This helps the trees stay upright in hurricanes and storms.
7. When a bald cypress tree gets older, a hole will start to form near its trunk. This is not a sign of sickness--Mother Nature creates this purposefully so that mammals will have a place to stay during hurricanes. They can also live to be hundreds or thousands of years old, and their bark is incredibly strong.
8. White and grey lichen grow on all sides of the tree, while pink lichen only grows on the north side. The natives who used to live here used this to navigate in the wilderness.
9. Alligators, not crocodiles, live in the fresh water swamps of Louisiana.
10. In the wild, a nest of newly hatched alligator babies have a 30% survival rate. In the nest, their main killer is the red ant. This is because the mother alligator builds her nest on patches of mud; red ants do too. When the mother alligator hears the first cries of a hatchling, she begins tearing up the nest immediately so her babies will be able to swim in the water. Once there, predators include birds, snakes, and other alligators.
11. Speaking of mud, the most primitive forms of land--as we know it--are found in the waters of a swamp. The previously mentioned hydrilla plant is found in copious masses under the surface of the water. They filter all the dirt and water, until eventually, some of the dirt comes loose and floats to the top of the water. This continues until the dirt collects together and starts to form land!
12. You might see bubbles floating to the top of the water as well. This comes from the decomposing vegetation that has sunk to the bottom of the swamp. They release methane bubbles.
13. Swamps are one of the cleanest environments in nature. Everything is filtered, and nothing is extra. Even the "rotting" tree trunks are home to woodpecker food. And woodpeckers are vital to the ecosystem as well, because the wood ducks follow into abandoned woodpecker nests to make their own homes. And more things follow them. It's all the great cycle of life. As our tour guide put it, "Mother Nature never does nothing extra, never makes no mistakes, and surely doesn't have no bad intentions.