What is a Swamp?

Niki Foster
Niki Foster

A swamp is a type of wetland characterized by relatively deep and widespread areas of water when compared to other wetland varieties, such as a marsh. A wetland is an ecosystem that is intermediate between terrestrial (land) and aquatic (water) environments, with features of both types. In the United States, woody vegetation is considered characteristic of a swamp, but this feature is not necessarily present in those around the world. In addition to the United States, there are swamps in Brazil, Barbados, Indonesia, Russia, and several African countries. These wetlands can be broken into two main categories: forested and shrub swamps.

A swamp is made of of both terrestrial and aquatic environments.
A swamp is made of of both terrestrial and aquatic environments.

Often associated with a certain body of water, such as a lake or river, swamps typically have very low elevation. The water is usually slow-moving and tannic due to the presence of decaying plant matter. A swamp may feature several elevated areas of dry land known as hummocks. Some are dry during part of the year, and the soil quality varies widely.

Alligator in a swamp.
Alligator in a swamp.

Swamps are sometimes characterized according to the type of trees they feature. In the United States, there are conifer, hardwood, cypress, and mangrove swamps. One of the largest and best known in the country, the Okefenokee Swamp of Georgia and northeastern Florida, is a cypress swamp, while mangrove swamps are characteristic of Florida.

Mangrove swamps are characteristic of Florida.
Mangrove swamps are characteristic of Florida.

Because the swamp is a specialized and relatively rare ecosystem worldwide, it is home to many interesting and unusual varieties of plant and animal life, many of which have adapted to the environment. Trees and plants characteristic of the particular wetland environment are able to thrive in standing water, and typical fauna include the American Alligator and the African Lechwe, a type of antelope. Many areas are the target of conservation campaigns, although quite a few have already been destroyed, including 70% of those that once flourished in the United States. Both the Okefenokee and the Great Dismal Swamp of Virginia and North Carolina are National Wildlife Refuges.

Mudfish may be found in swamps.
Mudfish may be found in swamps.
The bittern, a type of bird in the heron family, is often found in marshland and other water areas.
The bittern, a type of bird in the heron family, is often found in marshland and other water areas.
Niki Foster
Niki Foster

In addition to her role as a wiseGEEK editor, Niki enjoys educating herself about interesting and unusual topics in order to get ideas for her own articles. She is a graduate of UCLA, where she majored in Linguistics and Anthropology.

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Discussion Comments


I visited a Louisiana swamp a few years ago, and I was fascinated by all the wildlife there. I loved the birds with big beaks and long necks that stood so still in the water, as if they were hoping to hide.

I saw a lot of cypress trees in the swamp. Their roots bump up out of the water and look like small stumps. These are called “cypress knees.”

I felt like I was in some sort of jungle. There was vegetation everywhere, and the sun didn't get through to shine on the water. I could hear insects, birds, and frogs, and I heard no sounds of civilization at all.

It's cool to get away from the sound of traffic and crowds for awhile. However, it's also a little scary to know that if you need help in an emergency, it will be very hard to find, and you may be on your own.


@kylee07drg – I wanted to go on one of those swamp tours when I was a kid, but after I saw a show where people in a small boat were attacked by alligators in a swamp, I decided against it. I don't think I could have fun on a swamp tour because of the nightmarish potential of such an attack.


@feasting – There are so many different types of mangroves. Some are palm trees, but I don't believe the orange tree is included in this category.

I've seen pictures of the roots of mangroves under water in Florida swamps. Different colored shellfish are attached to them, and fish and alligators hang out there.

Swamps are very dangerous places for humans, though. The chances of finding alligators there are very high, and it may be hard to see them in the murky water.


I've seen swamps on TV before, but I'm not really sure what a mangrove is. Obviously, it's some type of tree that can grow in a swamp, but is it like an orange tree or a palm tree? Since Florida's swamps have mangroves, I just picture them with orange fruit on their branches.


What environment surrounds a normal swamp in Canada?


are mammoths like the ones in ice age?


no they did not. they lived in northern north america.


did mammoth live in swamps?

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