Bog Slog, Part 2

by Dana Atkinson | Jul 1, 2024 | 0 comments

Ah, yes, we were on a bog slog! You may recall we were headed out of the bog and back to solid, dry ground. Of course, the Gulper was threateningly slurping at our feet with each step.

Now, because there was so much to see and do, it was easy to get sidetracked, like linger by a pitcher plant and peer curiously into the depths of one of its pitchers. I suspect the curiosity of members of the party was piqued because, among the parts and pieces of drowned insects in the pitchers, there are live insect larvae that are obviously calling the trap their home.

insects inside a pitcher plant pitcher trap
Inside a pitcher plant. Photo © Dana Atkinson.

My, “Here, take a look at this…” was interrupted by me exclaiming, “AAAhhhhh, oh no, the Gulper got me!”

No worries, I thought, I only sank to the top of my right boot. I’ll just take another step and then be at that fallen log. Nope! The Gulper claimed my left foot to the top of my boot and kept my footless right boot while my right knee landed on the log and secured me from sinking further into the Gulper’s grip. After exerting much effort to extract my boots, we took the opportunity to have a closer look at the sphagnum moss. How could we overlook it since the moss is mostly responsible for creating this bog habitat?

I took a big handful of moss and squeezed about two-thirds cup of water out of it. The sphagnum moss’s incredible ability to hold water gets some of the credit for the moss’s habitat manipulation. The other main components of sphagnum moss’s vital role in bog-forming come from its acidic and phenolic compounds which inhibit decay. This causes the moss and other organic matter to accumulate as peat. The peat remains for ages and continues to hold water, thus forming the peatland, the Gulper, and the habitat for the orchids and other fascinating bog inhabitants we are enjoying.

We also were delighted to spot some sphagnum moss with spore capsules. These capsules are incredible spore-dispersal mechanisms. Below the cap of the capsule are thousands of tiny spores (30 microns across). Below the spores, each capsule has an air pocket. When the conditions are right, the air pocket is squeezed by the drying capsule walls. This builds up pressure until the cap pops off and the spores are violently blasted out in a swirling mushroom cloud (turbulent vortex) by the pressurized air. This vortex propels the spores much farther than they would otherwise go where they are further dispersed by the breezes. We spotted some bulging spore capsules and some that had already blown their tops. We wish we could see and hear it happen sometime.

sphagnum moss spore capsules
Sphagnum moss spore capsules. Photo © Dana Atkinson.

So anyway, back to lingering at a pitcher plant and peering into the watery depths of a trap. Someone was watching the thriving community inside that death trap while wondering about the “food processing chain” I mentioned earlier on the bog slog. If you look into a trap for a few seconds, you are likely to see mosquito larvae kicking around. And if you keep watching, you might see small worm-like larvae crawling around. Those “worms” are pitcher plant midge larvae (Metriocnemus knabi). They are the first part of the processing chain after the insects are captured and drowned. The midge larvae chew on the drowned insect carcasses. Their chewing/shredding activity releases particles/crumbs. Those particles feed the next links of the chain—those mosquito larvae we saw kicking around, which are the larvae of pitcher plant mosquito (Wyeomyia smithii). These mosquito larvae are filter feeders, filtering particles/crumbs and bacteria from the trap’s water. It is fascinating to watch this food processing chain in action. It’s fun to know it is responsible for the breakdown of the prey that contributes to the nutrient requirements of one of our favorite bog plants.

As we tore ourselves away from the pitcher plants, we passed a patch of cranberries. Someone was brave enough to taste a cranberry still hanging there from last year’s crop. Their puckered face and horrified reaction prevented others from trying the same experiment.

bee on cranberry flower
Bee on cranberry flower. Photo © Dana Atkinson.

We, of course, took the time to watch and appreciate bees’ antics as they gathered pollen and nectar from the cranberries’ cute little flowers. But then, because we had seen so much and had so much fun exploring, we passed the alders, the heaths, the butterflies, the dragonflies, the frogs, and the salamanders. We also passed some aquatic mushrooms, and even giant ferns as tall as an adult. Any of these bog inhabitants have stories we’d enjoy, so we’ll have to go back sometime, despite the Gulper.

Oh, and one last thing we did as we left the bog was pause to pop some balsam fir blister sap pockets and let the fragrant resin run onto twigs which we placed in our vehicle to enjoy the pleasant smell of balsam fir on the way home.

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