Archive for December, 2010

When Icebergs Drifted off the Coast of South Carolina

December 29, 2010

12,900 BP

A giant ice dam cracks in hundreds of places causing deafening roars like thunder.  Chunks of shattered ice slide off the rim, plunging into a growing river of water.  Behind the ice dam, a great lake swirls furiously, bearing enormous pressure against the frozen barrier, like a wild beast scratching against the wall of a cage.  Ravens, ducks, and geese flee the scene.  A sudden thunderstorm blackens the sky, bringing more thunder…and rain, the final blow.  The precipitation heightens the water level which begins to flow between a submerged crack as well.  Angry bubbles blow the fissure open.  And the ancient lake rushes to escape its prison.  The water explodes, now a waterfall not unlike Niagara.  It’s a biblical deluge of icy water roughly following the Nelson River but overflowing its banks for miles.  Big chunks of ice collapse into the deluge, carrying boulders, rocks, and topsoil.  The water strips trees out of the ground, captures and drowns herds of bison and other poor beasts caught in its stormy path.  The rush of water reaches the sea, an army of icebergs and an enormous quantity of fresh, cold, cold water hits the North Atlantic.  This frigid water meets the warm gulf stream, and the cold water wins, forcing the warm salty water to sink.  It shuts down this conveyor belt, the all important thermohaline circulation that keeps the northern hemisphere climate mild and warm.  Earth plunges back into the depths of an Ice Age for another two-thousand years.  Once again, the climate has suddenly become cold and arid, and glaciers advance rather than retreat as they had been doing for two-thousand years.

Side scan sonar image of iceberg keel scours off the coast of South Carolina.  This image is from the paper referenced at the bottom of this blog entry.

My dramatization above is what scientists refer to as a Heinrich Event, also known as a meltwater pulse.  Such events have occurred in regular cycles over the past 11,000 years, but on a much smaller scale than those of the Wisconsinian Ice Age.  During Ice Ages, glaciers expand and dam rivers, creating enormous glacial lakes.  Warm climate cycles melt these ice dams in a process that takes thousands of years.  Interstadials result as warm rainy climate prevails when more and more water is transferred from ice to the atmosphere.  Eventually, these ice dams would collapse and the frozen torrent flowed into the North Atlantic, shutting down thermohaline circulation, causing a reversal in climate phases.  This explains why the Wisconsinian Ice Age (and all Pleistocene Ice Ages) had rapidly alternating interstadial and stadial phases (though orbital perturbations, the rise of the Himalayas, and other tectonic processes are the ultimate factors behind it all).  Today, these cycles are not as dramatic because the north polar ice cap is much smaller and glaciers don’t stretch over all of Canada, like they formerly did.

Evidence of these astonishing Heinrich Events lie on the bottom of the North Atlantic.  “Ice-rafted debris” (actually called Heinrich Layers) consisting of drop stones and boulders, as well as sediment, exist deep under the ocean.  The rocks originated in what today is mid-western North America and could have only arrived at the bottom of the ocean here, if encased in icebergs because water can’t move heavy boulders, but it can float ice impregnated with these heavy rocks.  Numerous furrows also line the North Atlantic floor.  Geologists call these furrows keel scours, and they were made when the toes of icebergs scraped along the bottom of the ocean as the flow of water carried them south.  The toes of icebergs flipped over rocks and boulders that were in their way, and these are visible as well.

Jenna Hill and five other scientists discovered keel scours off the coast of South Carolina about 660 miles south of where the ice margin was during the last glacial maximum (~29,000-15,000 BP).  The scour marks are 500-660 feet under water, so the scientists had to use side scan sonar images to see them.  They took these images from the Nancy Foster, a NOAA research ship.  The scour marks range in width from 30 feet to about the length of a football field, and they’re about 30 feet deep.  Some are as long as 6 or 7 miles, and they’re orented west/southwest which is in the opposite direction of where the gulf stream flows today.  Near the end of these furrows are a series of circular pits.  Apparently, as the icebergs hit shallow ground, they got stuck.  Periodically, they melted, floated a while longer, and got stuck again in a mode of motion resembling a pogo stick.

Imagine vacationing on Myrtle Beach and seeing icebergs and smaller pieces of ice drift by, with seals and walruses sprawled on the latter.  Of course, what today is Myrtle Beach was too far inland then for a person to view the ocean.  Still, it’s amazing to think how much the world has changed since icebergs floated off the coast of South Carolina.

Reference:

Hill, Jenna; et. al

“Iceberg scours along the southern U.S. Atlantic Margin”

Geology June 2008

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Top Ten Pleistocene Animals I would bring back to the Present, if I could

December 23, 2010

(Warning: I’m jumping on my soapbox for this blog entry.)

Merry Christmas?  I say bah humbug!  Christmas is an ancient pagan holiday celebrating the winter solstice–the shortest day of the year–with a festival of artificial lights.  The Romans knew how to party, and they turned this festival into a drunken orgy known as Saturnalia.  They gave toys to their kids to distract them, so the children wouldn’t be aware that their parents were engaged in a little joyful wife and servant swapping.  The Catholic Church gained political power in the 4th century, but the hierarchy was unable to stop the alcoholic sex-crazed fun.  Instead, they incorporated the holiday and falsely claimed it to be the birthday of Jesus, the invisible Jewish rabbi who the psychotic founders of Christianity believed was the son of God, after God supposedly deposited his sperm into Mary’s vagina without breaking her hymen.

Pious Christians tried to break the real spirit of what the winter solstice should be about, but they haven’t ruined it nearly as much as the oppressive rulers of today’s American society have.  Big corporations and monstrous merchants have transmogrified this glorified sex orgy into a psychological compulsion for working class people to waste money on a bunch of junk they don’t need, so that wealth is transferred from the poor to greedy merchants.  Clueless economists make the ridiculous claim that this is good for the economy.  In reality it’s only beneficial for credit card-owning banks who for the rest of the year use this expensive spending orgy to drain working class people’s money, like vampires sucking the blood of sheep.

I’m not interested in material objects, but I do have a Christmas wish that a magic Santa could transport live specimens of extinct Pleistocene animals to the present so scientists could study the beasts, and zoos could display them.  Here’s my top ten wish list:

Photo of a replica skeleton of Ermeotherium that I took at the Skidaway Island museum.

1. Eremotherium laurillardi–a giant ground sloth.  There’s nothing like this beast living today.  Diminutive South American tree sloths are the closest living relative, but c’mon, there’s just no comparison.  This massive beast lived on Georgia’s coastal plain until about 30,000 years ago which is the time the last glacial maximum began.  The climate became too cold for them in North America, but they persisted in South America until about 11,000 years ago.

2. Smilodon fatalis–the saber-toothed cat.  There’s nothing like this alive today either.  Maybe we could lead a horse or cow into its cage and solve the mystery, once and for all, how it killed its prey.

3. Glyptotherium floridanum–Glyptodont.  A mammal built like a turtle and the size and shape of a Volkswagon.  Who wouldn’t want to see this in person?

4. Mammut americanum–Mastodon.  I’d pick mastodon over mammoth.  Mammoths are closely related to extant living Asiatic elephants, but mastodons were much more primitive and were related to an ancient order close to the evolutionary foundation of elephant-like animals.

5. Megalonyx jeffersonii–Jefferson’s ground sloth  This was a smaller ground sloth about the size of an ox.  For ecological reasons I believe this was the most common kind of ground sloth found in Georgia during most of the Pleistocene.  It preferred forested environments and was better adapted to colder temperatures, living as far north as Canada.

6.  Glossotherium harlani–Harlan’s ground sloth. Co-existed with Jefferson’s ground sloth, but apparently preferred open meadows as opposed to the forested conditions frequented by the other.

7. Mammuthus colombi–Columbian mammoth.  An elephant adapted for living in a temperate region.  Definitely unique enough to make my Christmas wish list.

8. Dinobastis serum–Scimitar-toothed cat.  Not as famous as Smilodon but equally as fascinating.  Got to give it the edge over other mammals left off the top ten list such as the Pleistocene vampire bats, extinct javelinas, and extinct llamas.  Though interesting, those other species do have similar living relatives, but there are no species of fanged cats left on the planet.

9. Terratornis sp.–The terratorn.  It’s a condor with a 14 foot wingspan.

10. Hesperotestudo crassicutata–This giant tortoise lived on Georgia’s coastal plain during warm interglacials and interstadials.  It grew as big as modern day Galapagos Island tortoises, but was closely related to extant gopher tortoises.

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The nature lover in me did get a real gift this year in time for Christmas.  The state of Georgia is going to purchase 15 square miles of Oaky Woods in Houston County.  Currently, it’s being managed as a wildlife management area, but real estate developers were threatening to destroy it.  Oaky Woods is a unique wilderness.  It’s the last stand of the black bear in the piedmont region of Georgia, and it’s home to 4 state record trees.  The landscape consists of mature stands of mixed pine and oak as well as rare remnants of blackbelt prairie, a probable relic habitat dating back to the Pleistocene.  Moreover, there is some good fossil-hunting ground there.  Eocene marine fossils are commonly found on this piece of land.

See www.saveoakywoods.com

Augusta radio talk show host, Austin Rhodes, suggested I go live in a tree when I brought this subject up on the Augusta Chronicle message board.  What a jerk!  The site is now protected, however, no thanks to shmucks like him.

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My next entry will be about ice berg keel scours off the coast of South Carolina. 

Cool.

Global Warming Caused Extinctions/Extirpations of Bird Species in Florida throughout the Pliocene and Pleistocene

December 17, 2010

Environmentalists fear the current climatic trend of global warming will cause numerous extinctions.  They have good reason to be concerned.  Dr. Steve Emslie surveyed most of the bird fossils ever found on the Florida penninsula and determined within which time span each species existed.  He discovered that waves of avian extinctions and extirpations occurred on the penninsula during times of global warming when sea level rose and flooded critical habitat.  (Note: Extinction means the permanent loss of a species; extirpation means a local extinction of a species that continues to exist elsewhere.)

This is a satellite map showing the potential encroachment of the ocean with a rise in sea level due to global warming.  With just a 5 meter rise in sea level (as occurred as recently as 130,000 years ago) the Everglades would be inundated.  Just think of the species extinctions, if that happened today.  The Everglades kite and dozens of land snails would become extinct.  Both of these images are  from the below referenced journal article.

Conversely, land area expands on the continental shelf when sea level falls during glacial expansion.  Glacial phases increase the amount and diversity of land habitat and thus the number of terrestrial species that can colonize the region.  An exposed land corridor allowed animals to reach the penninsula from Central America and Western North America.

The Avian Extinction Wave of ~2 Million Years BP

During the Pliocene from 3.5-3.0 million years ago and again from 2.5-2.0 million years ago, global cooling allowed a land bridge to emerge between North and South America.  This altered ocean currents and caused a major extinction of marine molluscs, especially salt water snails.  Scientists arbitrarily mark this extinction event as the boundary between the Pliocene and Pleistocene.  Much of what is now the Florida penninsula not only stayed above sea level but expanded in size due to the regression of the ocean from 2.5-2.0 million years ago.  Freshwater marshes commonly existed all over the penninsula.  Macasphalt Shell Pit and Richardsons Shell Pit are the fossil sites where bird skeletons of this age have been recovered.  About 2 million years ago, global warming melted the polar ice caps, and the ocean transgressed over much of what’s now Florida.  This sea level rise submerged freshwater habitat along what’s now the Georgia coast too, creating Trail Ridge (see my previous blog entry “The Geological and Ecological History of the Okefenokee Swamp part 1).  The ocean destroyed freshwater marshes and eventually left a layer of sea shells over the strata with the vertebrate fossils.  This destruction of habitat contributed to the extinction of at least 22 bird species (39% of the fossilized species known from these sites).  Almost all were small aquatic species such as gulls, ducks, and cormorants.

The Avian Extinction Wave of 1.6 Million Years BP

Global cooling once again caused sea levels to fall from 2.0-1.6 million years ago, creating a broad land corridor stretching along the Gulf Coast from Central America to Florida.  Glacial phases meant more dry land habitat and a variety of environments, including oak and pine forests, lightly wooded savannah, thorny brush, and freshwater marshes and lakes.  Numerous temperate, tropical, and western species of birds flocked to the region and left fossils at such sites as Inglis 1A and 1C, Haile 7C, DeSoto, and Pelican Shell Pit.  But global warming and sea level rise ~1.6 million years ago again caused the extinction/extirpation of bird species (at least 30 kinds–30% of regional avian species known), including the giant predator Titanis walleri, pygmy owls, and extinct species of eagles, vultures, condors, and cormorants.  The ring-billed kingfisher became extinct too, but a species of crow and two thrushes that used to live here may be the same as living tropical species still extant.

The Avian Extinction Wave of ~1 million Years Ago

Many bird species again colonized the region between 1.6-1 million years ago, leaving fossils at such sites as Leisey Shell Pit, and Haile 16A.  However, global warming and sea level transgression meant doomsday for 22% of the avian colonists, including extinct species of a loon, a pygmy goose, a rail, a bittern, a goose, a flamingo, a spoonbill, a heron, a woodcock, an ibis, a stork, and an auk.  Auks are arctic fish-eating birds, and this species must have ranged south to Florida during the height of Ice Ages.  Interestingly, J.J. Audubon reports puffins (as well as snowy owls) straggling as far south as Georgia during fierce 19th century winters.  The species of goose, pygmy goose, and flamingo that became extinct in Florida at this time survived in western North America until 11,000 years ago.

The Avian Extinction Wave of 11,000 BP

There aren’t many bird fossil sites in Florida dating between ~1 million-300,000 years ago, so a good survey wasn’t really possible for this time period, but sites dating from 300,000-11,000 are more abundant than from any other era.  The list of Rancholabrean Age bird and mammal fossil sites in Florida includes Reddick 1A, Arredondo 2A, Ichetucknee River, Rock Spring, Haile 11B, and Cutler Hammock. During this time period tropical, western, and northern temperate species colonized the state once more.  When the present day era began 11,000 years ago, global warming caused the submergence of the outer coasts of what’s now Florida.  However, this extinction/extirpation rate was low (14%), and most of the species were commensal scavenging birds.  Most scientists believe the reason for this wave of avian extinction was its correlation with megafauna extinction.  Scavenging birds had less food to eat, and as I thoroughly discuss in my book, overhunting by man is the most probable cause of megafauna extinction.  Woodward’s eagle, Grinnell’s crested eagle,  hawk-eagles, yellow headed caracaras, terratorns, California condors, and magpies disappeared from the state.  The latter two species still live in western North America, but were widespread in the east during the Pleistocene.  A few wetland birds became extinct or extirpated as well–a species of anhinga, a stork, and trumpeter swans; the latter species still also survies in small areas of the west.  Mexican grackles are another still surviving western species that used to live in Pleistocene Florida.  The southern lapwing, an extant tropical species lived in Pleistocene Florida.  Lapwings resemble plovers but are not closely related.  They prefer open habitat as did magpies.  Lapwings are on the increase in South America today as tropical forests are converted to pasturage.  Lapwings likely disappeared across southeastern North America when forests replaced Pleistocene prairies and savannahs.

References:

http://elibrary.unm.edu/sora/om/om050.pdf

For a species by species description of every extinct bird species in the Florida fossil record, be sure to click on the link above.

If I Could Live In the Pleistocene (Part Three)–The Turkey Trap

December 10, 2010

(For parts 1 and 2 of this irregular series, see the September archives.)

I imagine living in my snug adobe brick house on December 10th, 41,000 BP.  Though this is during an interstadial, a warm wet climatic phase occurring within the time span of the Wisconsinian Ice Age, the weather currently is dry and cold; the temperatures are dropping to 10 degrees Fahrenheit at night, and all three of my wood stoves are turning wood I chopped into fire and smoke and indoor warmth.  I’m hungry for meat, but I’m a little tired of eating venison and peccary, and in this cold weather I don’t feel like getting wet checking my fish traps on the river.  This year, no bison came close enough to my home for me to kill and butcher, so I have no beef.  Instead, I’ll settle for turkey.

Turkeys were abundant during the Pleistocene, large flocks of perhaps 100 or more roam the woods around my house in the Pleistocene piedmont region.  I awoke to the sounds of their gobbling this morning.  Fossils of turkeys in Georgia have been recovered from Kingston Saltpeter Cave and Ladds Mountain, both in Bartow County, which is halfway between Atlanta and Tennessee, so that’s the real evidence they were common here.  There were two species of turkey, at least in Florida, during the Pleistocene, including the common one found today Maleagris gallipavo, and Maleagris leopaldo or anza, western species that colonized the southeast during glacial stages when a corridor of grassy scrub habitat extended along the gulf coast on land now submerged by the Gulf of Mexico.  Warm tropical climate allowed even more species of turkey (at least 7) to live across North America during the Pliocene.  Turkeys evolved in America from a peacock-like ancestor, Rhegiminornis calbates, during the Miocene.  Fossils of this ancient species were discovered in Florida.

Habitat in the Pleistocene piedmont of what’s now Georgia was almost ideal for turkey.  Modern day wildlife game managers work with farmers and lumber companies to maintain turkey managment areas that include fields half-covered with small trees and shrubs.  Turkeys forage for weed seeds and insects in the fields but can retreat to brush to escape predators such as great-horned owls and bobcats.  In addition they like fields that border forests of mature trees that provide roosting sites and mast.  Pollen evidence from the Nodoroc site in Winder, Georgia suggests the piedmont region of what’s now Georgia (about 29,000 years BP) was 75% forest and 25% meadow–an environment in which turkeys would thrive.  Fire, drought, rapid climate fluctuations; and megafauna browsing, grazing, and trampling maintained open areas within the forest where turkey populations probably were high most of the time. 

In late fall and early winter male turkeys are in good condition, living in bachelor flocks and fattening on acorns.  So now is the time of year to catch and eat them (Of course, I’m referring to my imaginary Pleistocene existence.  Hunting season for present day turkeys  is in the spring), but I don’t want to aimlessly wander the wilds where in my distraction of the hunt, I might get ambushed by Smilodon fatalis or some other big cat.  Instead, I’m going to use a colonial American method that was formerly quite common and effective–the turkey trap.  There’s a modern misconception that our colonial ancestors were all gun-toting hunters.  Although it’s true that many did have firearms and did actively hunt, most did not.  In fact, gun ownership per capita was lower during colonial times than it is today.  Hardworking farmers didn’t have time nor the strength for hunting after putting in 12 hour days plowing the fields, taking care of the livestock, building fences, chopping firewood, doing household chores (like making soap from scratch and smoking hams), and making carpentry repairs on their cabins.  To catch wild game for the cooking pot, they set traps and snares.  Turkey traps were devastating for the birds.

Sketch of a colonial turkey trap.  The ditch dug under a wooden pen was baited with corn.  The turkeys followed the bait into the pen but couldn’t figure their way out in much the same way a crab trap works.  I have no idea who drew this sketch but I found it at http://woodsrunnersdiary.blogspot.com/

Colonial turkey traps consisted of a small wooden shed and a ditch baited with corn.  The ditch extended under the shed.  The turkey went into the ditch, ate and followed the corn into the shed or pen.  They’d hop up into the shed to eat more corn…but didn’t have the sense to escape by following the ditch back outside.  The colonists could then simply open a hatch to the pen, grab the bird, and execute it.  These traps could yield many birds at once.  According to J. J. Audubon, colonists occasionally forgot to check on the traps, perhaps they were too busy working or they got tired of eating turkey, and dozens of turkeys would starve to death and rot, making the whole area stink.  Audubon also reported that predators occasionally were attracted to these turkey pens–he once discovered a black wolf feeding on trapped turkeys.  In my Pleistocene world I block the entrance to my turkey trap when not in use because I abhor waste.

Reportedly, wild turkeys have better flavor than domestic turkeys, and they have more dark meat but less white.  The chances of catching one much larger than supermarket turkeys are also much higher.  Modern domestic turkeys are bred to have white skin and extra large breasts, and they’re most often harvested when they reach 15 pounds.  Domestic turkey breasts are so large, the meat must be embalmed with a salt water solution to keep the birds from drying out during roasting.  They’re bred to have white skin because it is more visually appealing than the black skin of the wild birds.  They are sold as 15 pound birds because that’s about the right size for roasting.  Wild turkeys that I catch in my Pleistocene turkey trap can weigh as much as 30 pounds.  I don’t bother roasting them.  Instead, I stew the thighs and drumsticks in a crockpot.  I shred the cooked meat and smother it in a gravy made from the liquid they cooked in.  I thicken it with a roux of butter and flour and season it with salt, sage, and thyme.  The shredded meat and liquid makes an excellent base for a Brunswick stew with vegetables grown in my Pleistocene garden (crushed tomatoes, corn, lima beans, potatoes, onions) and seasoned with salt, and red and black pepper.  The dark meat makes good ground meat and mixed with half venison yields an delicious meatloaf.  I smoke the breasts and wings.  The smoked breast meat is good for sandwiches; the smoked wings season a pot of red beans.  The breast meat can also be cut into filets and breaded and fried or cooked in a pan sauce with wine, mushrooms, and garlic.  Turkey carcasses make soup stocks superior to that made from chicken, so I have a ready supply of broth for the kitchen as well.

The Geological and Ecological History of the Okefenokee Swamp (part three)

December 3, 2010

Common and Interesting Plants Found in the Okefenokee Swamp

Most of the aquatic  plants that dominate the present day landscape of the Okefenokee Swamp were restricted to small scale marshes alongside the reduced number of rivers and streams that still incised the Okefenokee basin during the arid milleniums of the Ice Age when the water table fell and the swamp dried up between 36,000 BP and 7,000 BP.  The rest of the basin during this time period probably consisted of grassy pine savannah and scrub oak.  Nevertheless, these relic aquatic remnants provided the nucleus of the population that eventually re-established itself as the primary vegetation of the region.  Here are some interesting floral components of this environment.

Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum)–Eight-hundred year old giants still stand in a few coastal swamps near Georgia’s coast.  One-hundred years ago, when loggers decimated much of these ancient bottomland forests, they skipped over the biggest cypress trees because they were too large and hollow, and therefore too much trouble to economically harvest.  One of these gigantic cypress trees is located in the Townsend Wildlife Management Area in McIntosh County.  It’s 44 feet in circumference.  Imagine 7 men, all at least 6 feet tall, laying end-to-end in a circle around the tree and they still wouldn’t completely encircle it.  It’s understandable but not generally known that cypress trees are relatives of the famous Californian redwoods.  They sure have great size and long life in common.

For more about Georgia’s big cypress trees see this following link  http://savannahnow.com/news/2010-08-30/700-year-old-cypress-tell-story-survival

I took this photo of a cypress tree in autumn foilage at Phinizy Swamp in Augusta, Georgia.  Unlike most coniferous trees, cypress trees lose their foilage in the winter, like deciduous broad-leafed trees.

Unlike most coniferous trees, cypress trees are not evergreen, and they shed their needles in the winter.  They usually live in flooded swamps. They have mysterious knees–wooden knobs that grow above water.  Scientists are uncertain whether these aid in respiration or simply balance the trees in the watery muck where they grow.

Water tupelo (Nyssa aquatica)–Cypress trees hollow out and provide roosting habitat for bats and homes for other animals, but tupelo trees become hollow more frequently.  Matt Clement, a grad student at UGA, found 97 roosts of Rafinesque’s bats along the Altamaha River, and most of them were in hollow tupelo trees.

Water shield or dollar pad (Brasenia schreberi), Floating Heart (Nymphoides sp.), and White Water Lilly (Nymphaea odorata)–These are three completely unrelated plants, but their leaves look similar.  In fact, I can’t really tell their leaves apart.  It’s an example of convergent evolution when different species evolve similar structures to solve the same ecological problems.  All three are what people think of as the lilly pads so commonly seen floating on the surface of the open water habitats in the Okefenokee Swamp that are often confusingly referred to as prairie because they’re treeless.  All three species have round floating leaves attached via long stems to underwater roots.

Panic grass (Panicum sp.) Saber-tooths and jaguars lurked hidden in patches of this tall cane-like grass, stalking the long-horned bison and horses that fed upon it during the Pleistocene.  The large fauna are gone but the flora remains.

Photo of some panic grass also known as maiden cane that I took at Phinzy Swamp, Augusta, Georgia.  There was another patch on the other side of the path that was 12 feet tall.  I wish I would’ve taken a photo of that.

Spanish Moss (Tillandsia usneoides)–Oddly enough, Spanish Moss is related to pineapple–both are Bromeliads or air plants.  Wind and birds spread seeds and fragments.  The seeds and fragments of the Spanish Moss lodge in other tree branches.  The Spanish Moss then grows (both from seed and vegetatively).  The plant survives by extracting nutrients from air and rain water, not from the trees upon which they land, thus they’re considered epiphytes, not parasites.  Birds, bats, spiders, and snakes live in and about the moss.

Spanish Moss hanging from either a water or laurel oak at Phinizy Swamp, Augusta, Georgia.  Spanish Moss is quite common in the lowlands of the Augusta area, but I’ve never seen any in hilly sections.

Bladderwort (Utricularia sp.)–Like strange creatures from a low budget horror film, carnivorous plants thrive in the Okefenokee Swamp.  Bladderwort is an underwater plant with no roots.  The bladder-shaped structure on the plant works like a trap door, a suction-on-contact action captures fish fry, mosquito larvae, tadpoles, and protozoa.

Pitcher plants (Sarracenia flava, Sarracenia mino, Sarracenia psittacaea)–There are three species of pitcher plants found in the Okefenokee–the hooded, the parrot, and the golden.  A sweet rotten odor emanating from the plants attracts insects which get trapped in tubular stems.  Backward hairs block insects from being able to escape, and eventually, they tire and fall into the toxic water at the bottom of the tube.  Bacteria in the water digests the insects, releasing nitrogen that the pitcher plant is able to absorb.

Round-leafed Sundew (Drosera rotundifolia)–The sticky hairs on this plant work just like flypaper, trapping hapless insects.

Burreed (Sparanium sp.)–Fossil mastodon dung discovered in the Aucilla River, Florida contains many types of aquatic plants, including most discussed here.  Cypress was the most common item in their diet, but the beasts ate nympoides, nymphaea, and this one–burreed.  Burreed is an important plant in the second stage of forest succession that occurs when islands develop within the swamp.

The five stages of forest succession in the Okefenokee Swamp

1.  Sphagnum moss floats to the surface of open water and soil begins to accumulate on it forming an island.  Beakrush takes root.

2. Burreed, panic grass, and redroot are the second stage of plants to colonize the island.

3. Sedges take over.

4. Bushes and saplings colonize the island.

5. Trees such as cypress, tupelo, water oak, and pond pine form the final components of island forest succession in the Okefenokee Swamp.