Saturday, July 20, 2013 —
Many visitors to the North Carolina Zoo might walk right by the park's Mountain Bog exhibit and never know it's there--just like they might do in the wild. To a lot of people, bogs and wetlands connote wastelands--wet, unusable land areas that serve no purpose to people, plants or animals, but nothing could be farther from the truth.
Bogs are areas of moist, soggy ground, usually containing peat formed by the decay and carbonization of mosses and other vegetation. They're found mostly in flat terrain, where topography, geology and climate cause water to enter the system faster than it leaves. The origin of bogs is not known, but some are thought to date back to the last Ice Age.
Acre for acre, there’s more life in a healthy wetland than in almost any other kind of natural eco-system, and wetlands serve as nature’s own water purification systems. The intertwining roots, leaves and fibers of the dense plant life remove sediment and pollutants from the slow-moving water that meanders through them. They also act as nature’s flood-control system, like giant sponges, holding water and then slowly releasing it, preventing excessive flooding and erosion.
And--some would say, most importantly--bogs provide food and shelter for many species of plants and animals, some endangered. In North Carolina alone, more than 70 percent of the species listed as endangered, threatened or of special concern depend on wetlands for survival. Nationally, one in every three threatened or endangered species lives in wetlands.
The soil in most bogs is acidic due to sulfuric acid formed by the oxidation of organic sulfur compounds and from humic acids produced in the water. Because of this general acidity, bogs support a specialized and unique flora and fauna, many of which are found in no other habitats. These include wild orchids, carnivorous pitcher plants, lilies, wild azaleas, cranberries and a variety of shrubs and sedges in addition to bog turtles and other amphibians.