Cool, still air, water the color of dried blood, and ground that trembles beneath your feet make the bog seem an eerie place. Sphagnum moss grows out from the edge of the bog in tangled mats strong enough to support trees, shrubs, and even people...barely. Jump up and down on a quaking bog and trees 25 feet away bounce along with you. Jump too hard and your leg may plunge through into the brown water below.
The spongy sphagnum moss soaks up warmth, oxygen, and rain water and keeps them from reaching the bog below. Sphagnum is so absorbent it was used as diapirs by the Indians and for bandages in battlefield hospitals in World War I. When shagnum dies and decays, it makes the water in the bog as acid as orange juice.
A bog can support snapping turtles, frogs, insects, and birds such as wood warblers and swamp sparrows, but few fish can live where oxygen is in such short supply. Snowshoe hares, beavers, muskrats, and bog lemmings are some of the mammals that come to nibble on the wetland plants.
A strange mix of plants thrive in the bog. Cranberries and blueberries from the arctic tundra grow next to orchids and insect-eating plants from the tropical rain forest. Carniverous plants get nitrogen from insects that they can't get from the nutrient-poor bog. The sticky red hairs of the small sundew hold, then fold over an insect's body and slowly digest it. Insects slide down the slippery hairs of the pitcher plant into a cup filled with rain water and digestive juices.
In northern Europe, bogs (also called "heaths") were once the gloomy retreats of society's outcasts. They became known as "heathens" and "bogeymen". Bogs were also the ancient burial sites of over 600 human sacrifices to the goddess of fertility. Their bodies were perfectly preserved by the bog's acid water and lack of oxygen for almost 2000 years!
In Maine, no human sacrifices have been uncovered, just sphagnum moss ("peat moss") for gardens and for fuel. Mining peat for fuel on a large scale may soon present a threat to some of our fragile bogs in northern Maine.
Build or draw a plant that can catch insects. Think about how real insect-eating plants attract, capture, and hold their prey: the sticky, red leaves and sweet smell of the sundew and the pitcher plant's inviting red veins, downward-pointing hairs, landing pad for insects, and cup to drown them. The Venus fly-trap of North and South Carolina has trigger hairs that signal the leaf to shut when touched. Order these from a biological supply house or nursery for a class terrarium or watch the musical Little Shop of Horrorsfor inspiration!