Swamps are teeming with life as they are the perfect breeding ground for insects. Once you look closer, you start to see the diversity of creatures from many families in the insect world. Some are beautiful, others more functional for the ecosystem, but all are important.
A vast range of insect species in the US relies on swamps and related habitats for survival. If you take the time to study life in a vernal pool or see what flies overhead, you can find striders, dragonflies, butterflies, and all kinds of larvae in developmental stages.
While we might immediately think of some of the more annoying swarms, there are also many other interesting species. Without them, the swamp wouldn’t survive. Let’s look at some of these now.
Insects are a vital part of the ecosystem of the swamps of North America.
While some visitors may complain about the number of bugs in the swamps than in other wild areas, these creatures are an essential part of the food chain for many species. Amphibians and fish can feed on flies, water-dwelling bugs, and larval forms of species. This then helps to protect the diversity of these species and creates a broader food resource for all birds, reptiles, and mammals in the area. The swamp wouldn’t be a rich ecosystem without some of these species. There is also great diversity in the types of insects seen here.
The insect most commonly associated with the swamp is the mosquito. There are thousands of mosquito species worldwide, and many make their home in the marshes and swamps of North America. You can find large swarms of males searching for females to mate with. The males feed on nectar, while the females seek blood while their eggs develop. Unlike many other insect species, females can do this multiple times before dying.
The mosquito has always had a bad reputation worldwide as a bloodsucker and a carrier of diseases. This has led to an interesting development in the Florida Keys with a genetically modified population of insects. The idea was to release a population of male mosquitos into the area to breed with local females. The difference with these males is that they carry a protein that will kill off female offspring before they reach maturity. Therefore, there will be fewer biting females to pass on those diseases.
This controversial plan is seen as a big step in protecting human populations. Concerns about the long-term impact on population numbers and the creatures that feed on the mosquitos are concerned.
Another species that stands out is the swamp cicada. Cicadidae is a fascinating species known for its song. The song of the Cicada is also synonymous with swampy regions. These cicadae will make their homes in swamps and marshy territories across much of the US’s Eastern side.
Periodical cicadas also have a fascinating life cycle where adults emerge from the ground after 17 years. For a small minority of populations, like the Baton Rouge brood, this is a 13-year cycle. Every 13 or 17 years, you get a mass emergence of new adults in the area. This will happen again in 2021. This is all part of a predator satiation strategy to overwhelm predators and survive in greater numbers. It is also timed to avoid predator booms.
The water of these swamps and marshes is essential for the lifecycle of many insect species.
Many swamp insect species use stagnant water to lay their eggs and raise their young. Larval forms may stay in the water in the mud and develop before reaching their adult form and leaving the water. For years, they can often be down there emerging to take flight, mate, and lay eggs before dying.
For example, we see the dragonfly as a beautiful jeweled insect hunting over the water. They are incredible hunters and a joy to watch. But, dragonfly nymphs are wholly different and predate other species underwater.
While many flies and other winged insects will leave the water to feed and expand their territory, others are more at home on the water. Water striders are a great example with an interesting adaptation. Also known as pond skaters in other parts of the world, these insects can walk on water.
The surface of the water has greater tension and a delicate membrane. Striders take advantage of this by trapping air in the hairs of their legs and repelling water, allowing them to stand and move on the surface. This puts them in a prime position to capture any larvae that come to the surface or any creatures that fall in.
Next are the butterflies. You would not normally associate this creature with swampy or marshy areas because they don’t require water for their life cycle. Instead, we are used to seeing them in meadows and gardens where they can pollinate flowers.
Butterflies can add color and further diversity to these areas. As many as 90 species have been seen in the Everglades. Some of these are migratory species looking for a warmer home in the winter. Others, such as the White Peacock, are there all year round and are not that hard to find.
Many insect species across North American swamps, and the wider world, are in decline
While it is important to celebrate the diversity of insect life in the swamps and appreciate the role of each creature, we can’t overlook issues of species decline. Studies show that 40% of insect species worldwide are in decline. You don’t see the same swarms and masses as you once did. There are fears that vital species, from the cicadas to the butterflies, could become critically endangered or even disappear entirely.
We can’t overlook these creatures’ importance, beauty, and adaptability
A vast range of insect species in the US relies on swamps and related habitats for survival. While we might immediately think of some of the more annoying swarms, there are also many other interesting species. If you take the time to study life in a vernal pool or see what flies overhead, you can find striders, dragonflies, butterflies, and all kinds of larvae in developmental stages. Without them, the swamp wouldn’t survive.