Wetlands are exactly as they sound: lands covered by shallow water. How can you tell if an area is a wetland and why do these ecosystems matter? Find out the answers to these questions and more with fun facts, printable activities and multimedia resources.
Elements of Wetlands
Every wetland is unique from others because of its location and foundation. There are four main types of wetlands: marshes, swamps, bogs and fens. To learn more about what a wetland looks like and how it works, check out this fun music video.
Marshes are not always full of water and contain fresh water, salt water, or a combination of both. A tidal marsh forms near a body of water like a river, bay or stream and its water level rises or lowers with the tide. An inland marsh forms near a lake or river when the water table is high.
Common marsh plants include:
- Water lilies
- Water chestnut
Critters you find in a marsh include:
- Fish like Shad and Herring
Swamps form in floodplains or other areas with bad drainage and always have wet soil or standing water. The main difference between a marsh and a swamp is the type of plants growing in them. Swamps have trees while marshes don't.
Common swamp plants are:
- Cypress tree
- Gum tree
Animals you might see in a swamp are:
Bogs only contain fresh water because they are fed by rain and exist in northern climates inside lake basins with poor drainage. The ground in a bog feels like a squishy sponge and is covered by peat, which is decaying plant matter.
Plants you might find in a bog include:
- Sphagnum moss
- Pitcher plants
Common bog critters are:
- Hairy canary fly
Fens also contain only fresh water because they are fed by groundwater. These types of wetlands are the rarest and contain more plant and animal species than any other wetlands.
Common fen plants include:
- Tamarack trees
- Poison sumac
Creatures you might find living in a fen are:
Wetlands Around the World
Wetlands are diverse, beautiful and occur in areas around the world. Check out these famous wetlands:
- The Florida Everglades sit on a bed of limestone and help make clean water for different parts of the state.
- One of the largest wetlands in the world is the Pantanal spanning 150,000 square kilometers in Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay in South America.
- Australia is home to the Kakadu Wetlands which houses wild horses, buffalo and alligators together.
Wetland ecosystems benefit people, plants and animals in many ways. They are incredibly productive, play home to diverse species and protect water. Some of their greatest services include:
- Providing a variety of food sources to support the food chain
- Naturally improving water quality
- Promoting diversity of life
- Protecting against flood damage
Wetlands cover around six percent of the Earth, but in the last few decades, the United States alone has lost half its wetlands. About 30 percent of the threatened or endangered species living in the United States live exclusively in wetland habitats. Protecting these areas not only helps these animals but provides important resources for people too.
Test your knowledge and learn more about wetlands with fun activities about wetland habitats, ecosystems, plants and animals.
Wetland Search and Find
There are lots of things that harm or threaten to harm wetlands and the animals who live there. Can you spot these harmful items hidden in this landscape? Click on the image to download and print the wetland search and find. Color the whole page and circle the harmful items as you find them. If you have any trouble, this guide has tips and tricks to help with troubleshooting.
There are many animals and creatures living in wetlands and they're all part of a food chain. Use this worksheet to test your knowledge on what different animals eat in this habitat. Click on the image to download the worksheet then click on the print icon. Draw a line from the animal on the left to the food it eats on the right.
Fun computer games help you learn more about wetlands and serve as a test of what you already know.
- The Wild Wetlands game under the Vancouver Aquarium section features an active wetland habitat and asks you to click on the images you believe could harm the environment.
- For a more relaxing activity try the Wetlands Coloring Book. You choose an animal then click on the colored pencils to color in your wetland creature.
- Vanishing Wetlands: A Magic Act? is a web quest designed to follow a fifth-grade curriculum that directs kids to gather facts and create a poster about how people can help protect wetlands.
Books About Wetlands
There are so many kinds of wetlands and each one is unique. Reading books or watching movies about wetland habitats and animals helps keep the fun and learning going.
- Younger readers take a journey through everything above and below the water in Here is the Wetland, an illustrated picture book by Madeleine Dunphy.
- Wetlands Inside Out by James Bow is great for older kids because it includes maps, activities and focus boxes to present factual information about these ecosystems.
- Cathryn Sill's book About Habitats: Wetlands shows young readers what a wetland is, who lives there and why they are important.
Teaching About Wetlands
Kids can use these resources to learn while adults can use them to create extensive units for children about the wetlands. Of course, nothing helps children learn better than actually experiencing the wetlands. If you have wetlands nearby, take students to see actual wetlands to help reinforce the learning.