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Habitat: Bayous and Swamps

 

 

Photo of Swamp Copyright U.S. Geological Survey

Used with Permission to CoveBear.com

 

 

SWAMPS AND BAYOUS OF AMERICA

 

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN

A SWAMP AND A BAYOU?

 

A bayou is a very slow-moving stream, attached to a larger stream or river, and usually with many open spaces.  The word bayou (pronounced by-you) comes from the Choctaw Indian word "bayuk."  Bayous are abundant in the southern United States, although other parts of the country have other geographic areas they have named bayou.  Some people name a lagoon a bayou, or even a dry-creek bed.  However the true meaning of the word is a slow-moving stream.

 

Alligator

Copyright KMG for CoveBear.com

 

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO AN ALLIGATOR HISSING

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO AN ALLIGATOR BELLOWING

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO ANOTHER ALLIGATOR BELLOWING

 

(Audio clips of alligators courtesy of U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service)

 

 

Bayous in the south have been used by hunters and trappers who lived off the land (and water) for hundreds of years.  They were used by both pirates and soldiers.  Today, some of them offer travelers a unique and interesting diversion in state parks and in small boats.  Indians in the Mississippi delta and tributaries and bayous, and later white settlers, carved boats out of tree trunks.  These boats were called pirogues (pronounced pee-roags).  When the Acadians were forced to leave their homes in Nova Scotia, they settled along Louisiana bayous, west of New Orleans.  The word Acadian was shortened to "Cajun."

 

Yellow-Crowned Night Heron

Copyright KMG for CoveBear.com

 

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO MORE BAYOU NOISES

(Audio clips of bayou sounds and frogs courtesy of U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service)

 

 

Some swamps are fed by bayous, which are fed by rivers.  In Louisiana and Mississippi, it is the Mississippi River that feeds bayous and swamps.  While a bayou is usually an open stream with vegetation along the sides, a swamp is a boggy wetland where water seems to stand still, although its water does rise and fall with freshwater tides.  Sometimes the movement of water in a swamp is so slight you would not even notice it. 

 

Cypress Swamp

Copyright KMG for CoveBear.com

 

Sometimes the water stands still so long that algae grows on the top of it, and the water becomes stagnant. Swamps are full of vegetation with few wide open places like bayous.  The water in a swamp, since it stands still much of the time, and because it contains a lot of dead vegetation such as fallen leaves, tends to be brown or tea-colored.  A large amount of decomposing vegetation falls into the water and does not get carried away by a current.  Southern cypress swamps have cypress trees in them with Spanish moss hanging down.  Spanish moss is an air plant, and lives on trees but does not kill them.  Early settlers used the moss to stuff their mattresses with.

 

White Ibis

Copyright KMG for CoveBear.com

 

Both swamps and bayous are full of wildlife, including mammals, birds, amphibians, insects, reptiles, and more.  However, since swamp water does not move much, it is robbed of a lot of the oxygen that a bayou may have, and so will not necessarily have the same animals living in the water there.  They do share animals that move through the water, such as alligators, nutria, muskrats, beavers, turtles, egrets and other wading birds, frogs, and snakes.  These animals move through this water or live on the edges or at the top of the water.  In a swamp, you will not find a lot of fish in low-oxygen water, but you will find crawfish, little shrimp, little tadpoles, and fish and insect larva.  Wading birds eat these. 

 

Young Raccoon

Copyright KMG for CoveBear.com

 

Other animals such as bears, deer, raccoons, opossums, bobcats, and armadillos live on the edges of these waters.  Swamps and bayous are teeming with mosquitoes, because they can lay their eggs in the stagnant and slow-moving water.  Bayous have more fish than swamps because bayou waters have some movement and more oxygen.

 

Cypress Knees in Swamp

Copyright KMG for CoveBear.com

 

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO A LITTLE BLUE HERON CATCHING A FISH

 

(Audio clip of heron splashing courtesy of U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service)

 

 

These places are hot and humid in the summer, and close but cool in winter.  At some dry times of the year such as winter, it is possible to walk out into a cypress swamp and never get wet.  It is very special to walk a cypress swamp or into where a bayou was when the water is gone. Few people get the chance to do that.  There will likely be no alligators in a dry winter swamp, but there will be huge spiders in webs that are stretched up to ten feet across between trees.  People who walk dry swamps always have a very long stick to knock down the webs.  Keep in mind (we know this from first-hand experience) that these huge spiders will fall on your shoulders as you knock down those webs - wear a hat!  We have walked dry swamps when the water is gone and the snakes are asleep.  It is so still and quiet there.  You can hear the whirr of a barred owl's wings as she flies through the trees on a chilly day.  The ground is caked and cracked and crisp as you walk on it.  There are no footprints ahead, and no trails to find your way back.  The swamp smells musty and old.

 

Anhinga, sometimes called "Snake Bird"

because of long neck

Copyright KMG for CoveBear.com

 

Swamps and bayous in the South serve a very important function in that they take on the storm surges brought by violent hurricanes from the Gulf of Mexico, and help to move heavier flows of water at those times.  Storm surge in the form of salt water is very destructive to plants and animals that are accustomed to fresh water.  Swamps and bayous are usually fresh water.  The vegetation in swamps and in freshwater or salty marshes along the coast help to filter out salt water at times of salt water surge from storms. Most swamps were once small lakes that merely became covered with a lot of vegetative materials.

You can visit easily accessible swamps that have wonderful boardwalks through them in Florida, such as Six-Mile Slough and Corkscrew Swamp, both near Ft. Myers.

Familiar Louisiana swampy areas are Honey Island Swamp, Bayou de l'Outre means bayou of the otter (pronounced de loat), Bayou Lafouche means forked bayou (pronounced la-foosh), Atchafalaya is a swamp and a river, a tributary from the Mississippi River (pronounced aa-chaff-aa-LIE-a), Bayou Teche (pronounced tesh), Bayou De Glaize means cold or icy bayou (pronounced by-you de glaze), Lapine Bayou (pronounced la-pan) means rabbit bayou, and Bayou Queue de Tortue (pronounced cur - de - TOR - TUR) means tail of the turtle.

Turtles

Copyright KMG for CoveBear.com

 

Not all swamps are in the Central South.  Some very large swamps in other areas are the Great Dismal Swamp in northeastern North Carolina and southeastern Virginia and the Okefenokee Swamp in southeastern Georgia and northeastern Florida.  Some people call the Everglades a swamp, some call it a river.  The Great Cypress Swamp is in Maryland, the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge is in New Jersey, and the Great Black Swamp is in Indiana and Ohio.

The different types of swamps include cypress swamps, shrub swamps, mangrove swamps, conifer swamps, and hardwood swamps.

 

Photo of a Louisiana black bear cub

Louisiana Black Bear Cub

Bears are Found in Bayou Teche, Louisiana

Photo: Courtesy U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, by Steven Reagan

 

 

READ MORE!

WEBSITES ABOUT BAYOUS AND SWAMPS TO VISIT:

Atchafalaya Swamp, Louisiana http://dnr.louisiana.gov/sec/atchafalaya/

Battle Creek Cypress Swamp, Maryland http://calvert-county.com/cypress.htm

Bayou Cocodrie, Louisiana http://www.fws.gov/bayoucocodrie/

Bayou D'Arbonne, Louisiana http://www.fws.gov/darbonne/

Bayou Savage, Louisiana http://www.fws.gov/bayousauvage/

Black Bayou, Louisiana http://www.fws.gov/northlouisiana/blackbayoulake/

Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, Florida http://www.corkscrew.audubon.org/

Cypress Island Preserve at Lake Martin, Louisiana http://www.nature.org/wherewework/northamerica/states/louisiana/preserves/art6856.html

Great Dismal Swamp, Virginia and North Carolina http://www.fws.gov/northeast/greatdismalswamp/

Okefenokee Swamp, Georgia and Florida http://www.fws.gov/okefenokee/

Six Mile Cypress Slough, Florida http://www.leeparks.org/sixmile/

 

WEBSITES ABOUT BAYOUS AND SWAMPS ECO-TOURS:

(Note: We found these on the Internet but have no first-hand reviews of these tours; we do not officially endorse any swamp tours)

Alligator Bayou, A Wilderness Adventure http://www.alligatorbayou.com/

Annie Miller's Sons Marsh and Swamp Tours 3718 Southdown Mandalay Rd., Houma, LA, 70360 (985) 868-4758

Billie Swamp Safari http://www.seminoletribe.com/safari/

Cajun Country Swamp Tours http://www.cajuncountryswamptours.com/

Cajun Man's Swamp Cruise, A http://www.cajunman.com/

Cajun Style Swamp Tours http://www.cajunstyleswamptours.com/?gclid=CNO27M-vgp0CFVlM5Qodrz91bQ

Eco-Tours of south Mississippi http://www.ecotoursofsouthmississippi.com/

Honey Island Swamp Tour http://www.honeyislandswamp.com/

Jean LaFitte Swamp Tour http://www.jeanlafitteswamptour.com/

Kissimmee Swamp Tour http://www.kissimmeeswamptours.com/

Munson's Swamp Tour http://www.munsonswamptours.com/

New Orleans Bayou Tour  http://www.partner.viator.com/en/2227/tours/New-Orleans/New-Orleans-Cajun-Bayou-Tour/d675-2292CBT

Okefenokee Eco-Tour http://www.okefenokee.com/okefenokee_package_tours.html

Wetland Tour and Guide Service http://www.wetlandtours.com/

Wooten's Everglades Airboat Tour http://www.wootensairboats.com/

 

WEBSITES WITH DESCRIPTIONS OF BAYOUS AND SWAMPS:

What is a Mangrove Swamp? (by the EPA) http://www.epa.gov/owow/wetlands/types/mangrove.html

What is a Swamp? (by the EPA) http://www.epa.gov/owow/wetlands/types/swamp.html

 

 

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KMG is not responsible for errors in information, but accuracy is our goal.


 

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