Wilderness Underfoot: Illinois’ quaking bog

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If you’ve never seen a bog before, consider visiting Volo Bog

There’s nothing else like it in Illinois. The Volo Bog State Natural Area near Ingleside, Ill., is home to our only open water quaking bog—an otherworldly ecosystem with a wealth of fascinating plants and animals easily spotted from trails and floating boardwalks.

A bog is a special type of wetland with acidic waters and accumulations of peat or sphagnum moss. The peat forms floating mats, upon which other plants anchor and grow. A quaking bog is one with deeper waters and mats that bounce or “quake” if you step onto them (not recommended nor allowed at Volo Bog!).

Bird lovers will find 180 species visiting or living in the bog at various times of the year. You may see herons and egrets, hawks and falcons, ducks, geese, cranes, swallows, cardinals, catbirds, bluebirds, blue jays, red-winged blackbirds and an occasional crossbill.

Those of you who appreciate creepy crawlies of the animal world will be pleased to find lots of invertebrates such as insects and spiders, and a variety of snails. When flowers are in bloom, butterflies are everywhere.

Every now and then, a garter snake will glide across the trail. Fox snakes, milk snakes, brown snakes and Northern water snakes are occasionally spotted as well. Near water, look for the painted turtle, Blanding’s turtle and the snapping turtle.

You’re guaranteed to see amphibians at the bog, especially frogs. Leopard frogs and large bullfrogs are quite common. Tree frogs sometimes leap about in the wetland grasses. Toads hop around the shady woodlands areas, and spotted salamanders will make an appearance on cool, rainy days, especially in the early spring.

What makes the bog most exceptional among Illinois ecosystems is the plant life. Take the pitcher plant, for example—a carnivorous plant that preys on insects by luring and trapping them in a “pitcher” of digestive juices. You’ll see the tamarack pine, which is uncommon in our state, as well as orchids, leatherleaf, bog buckbean and a variety of rare ferns.

The trick to spotting lots of interesting plants and animals is to stop frequently, and quietly observe your surroundings. The floating boardwalk over the bog is particularly rich in wildlife. Make it a fun learning experience for kids by bringing along a camera and a checklist for the plants and animals you spot. You’ll be surprised at how fast your list grows. And be sure to stop in the visitor center to pick up guides and see the exhibits.

Volo Bog is south of Fox Lake just off Route 59, at 28478 W. Brandenburg Rd. Trails are open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily until Labor Day, with reduced hours in fall and winter. For information, call (815) 344-1294.

From the June 7-13, 2006, issue

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