The Snag – Full of Life

The Snag – Full of Life
By: Ruth Mead

snag 2A snag – a tree that is dead but still standing as opposed to a log which is a dead tree lying on the ground – is still very much alive long after the tree itself has passed on. It’s hard to even imagine a forest or swamp without a snag, for the very ecology of the habitat relies on them. In fact, we do our neighborhoods injustice when we so quickly cut down our dead trees. At first, the decomposers come in, quickly eating away the cambium layer between the bark and the wood. These decomposers include many insects – especially beetle larva and termites, centipedes, lots of bacteria, and many more. Soon the bark falls off, leaving the tree naked. Woodpeckers come by looking for a good bug hidden under the bark. If they find a soft spot in the wood, they are able to excavate a nest hole. Cavities in the main stem are highly sought after by cavity nesters including bluebirds, chickadees, titmouse, and even larger birds like woodpeckers, wood ducks, and owls. Many cavity nesters use live trees, too, and some species of bats also roost in tree cavities. Some snags are short lived such as pine trees and tupelo. Others, such as cypress, can stand up to 75 years! Rat snakes love to investigate holes in snags, maybe looking for a cool spot on a hot day or more likely, their next meal. Besides bats, other mammals use cavities – such as snag 1raccoons and opossums. I was once with a group of students, and we stopped to look into a hollow spot in a tree. Much to our surprise, a group of baby opossums lay waiting for their mom. One of the girls screamed, but everyone agreed they were very cute.  Besides the inside of a snag, the outside might be more highly used. I can’t tell you how many birds use snags for perches, but mostly our birds of prey – waiting for the right moment to swoop down for their next dinner.