The ecosystems in Louisiana’s swamps are as rich, varied and captivating as the region’s culture. So we decided to check in with our friends Jared and Eric at Beyond the Bayou, naturalists and guides at the acclaimed swamp tour operator, who were kind enough to share with us their favorite facts – including those about alligators and swamp monsters – about the beloved swamps they skim through daily.

Take it away, fellas!

The swamp is a magical place filled with unique wildlife, history, culture and mystery. There’s nothing quite like an adventure through a flooded forest, with sunlight flickering down through the canopy above, helping the water to seemingly dance as you glide through on a boat or kayak. Waterways filled with alligators and cypress knees attract visitors from around the world. Here are our favorite reasons why:

  1. Alligators: You can’t talk about the swamp without talking about alligators. The American Alligator is the largest reptile living in the United States. Get this – adult males can grow up to 15 feet and weigh up to 1,000 pounds! Once endangered, they have now made a remarkable recovery. Did you know that some alligators even use tools? In Louisiana and Florida, gators have been observed using lures to hunt fowl; they balance sticks or branches on their heads to attract birds looking for nesting material. Pretty crafty!
  2. Rougarou, Legendary Cajun Swamp Monster: Cajun legends speak of a creature who prowls the swamps and sugarcane fields around Southern Louisiana. It is commonly described as a beast with the body of a human and the head of a wolf. Known as a Rougarou, this mythical monster is said to shape-shift between human and animal forms at will. The name “Rougarou” came from the word “loup-garou,” French for werewolf. If you head into the swamps at night, beware…
  3. Vital Ecosystems: Swamps are critical ecosystems. During storm surges, they protect cities and act as giant sponges and barriers, helping to moderate flooding and absorbing excess water. Swamps also help purify water, filtering some waste and chemicals from human activities and factories; harmful substances not absorbed by marshland plants are deposited slowly over time into sediment and sand.
  4. First Recall (Spanish Moss): Spanish Moss is the iconic, feathery looking plant that hangs off of oak and cypress trees, both in the swamps and in big Southern cities like New Orleans, Charleston and Savannah. But what’s interesting is that Spanish moss isn’t Spanish, it’s American, and it isn’t a moss – it’s actually part of the pineapple family. Crazy, right? Fluffy Spanish moss has been used historically for all kinds of commercial purposes, from bedding to car seats. In fact, the first major manufacturer’s recall in the U.S. was in the Model T automobile from Ford, and it was Spanish moss-related – in the early 1900’s, Ford used Spanish moss in the seating, and it was filled with mites. Yikes!
  5. Spiders That Fish: The swamps of Louisiana are home to a unique spider that likes to hang out on the base of cypress and tupelo trees. The “fishing spider” can trap air bubbles in its bristly body hair, which it releases whenever it needs fresh oxygen. This enables it to stay underwater for up to 30 minutes at a time. They don’t bother with spinning webs, as they can glide and submerge, catching minnows, insects and other small creatures found in the water below. These spiders are large – about three inches long – and mildly venomous, but don’t worry, as they usually shy away from humans and bites are very rare. Phew.

Written by: Beyond the Bayou