Colours of a Biome: Taiga Edition


Just south of the Tundra and north of the Deciduous Forest, sits the largest biome on land. I’m sure you are pine-ing away to learn just how colourful this subarctic forest can be!

The Taiga (sometimes called the Boreal Biome) is found in North America and Eurasia, particularly in Canada, Alaska, Scandinavia and Siberia. This biome has warm, moist and short summers followed by long, cold and dry winters. Due to these long winters, the biome is known for having lots of coniferous trees like pines, firs, and spruces. Unlike the deciduous forest, these trees grow needles that last all year long, which explains why they are also called Evergreens.

White-winged Crossbill or Two-barred Crossbill (Loxia leucoptera)

white winged crossbill, two-barred crossbill
White Winged Crossbill Photo. Credit: Dominic Sherony

Details: These medium- sized members of the finch family can measure 15-17cm in length with a wingspan of 26-27cm. They have dark wings with white patches, males are red or yellow, while females tend to be yellow or green. The Crossbill’s colours also change with the season; they have darker feathers in the summer and lighter shades in the winter.

My Hood: They are found in the coniferous forests of Northern Eurasia and North America. These birds love forests with lots of spruce and tamarack cones.

How I fit in: Probably the most distinctive feature of Crossbill birds are their crossed mandibles. Their beaks overlap and look crisscrossed. This is an adaptation that is very important for birds living in the Taiga. They can use their beaks to open coniferous cones and eat its seeds. In one day, the White-winged Crossbill can collect up to 3,000 seeds!

Short-tailed Weasel (Mustela erminea)

short-tailed weasel, mustela erminea, ermine, stoat
Short-tailed Weasel is also called Ermine or Stoat

Details: This weasel is sometimes called a stoat or an ermine. They have long, thin bodies and can grow from 170mm to 330mm, with males measuring almost twice as long as females. They have triangular heads, which are supported by long necks.

My Hood: The Short-tailed Weasel lives in areas with heavy forest cover in North America, Europe and Asia. They don’t just live in the Taiga; they can also be found in the alpine tundra.

How I fit in: Like the White-winged Crossbill, their colours change with the season. In the summer, their coats are orangey-brown with a white underbelly. During the winter they blend into the snow as their coats become fully white. To stay warm they make their homes underground in old burrows of small animals (which they have probably eaten). They make these spaces their own by adding furs and feathers from their prey.

Tamara Eder. Mammals of Ontario. Edmonton: Lone Pine Publishing, 2002: Page 68-69

Magnolia Warbler (Dendroica magnolia)

magnolia warbler, dendroica magnolia
Magnolia warbler. Photo Credit: William H Majoros

Details: The Magnolia Warbler is not a very social bird but that doesn’t make them aggressive. They live alone, but are not hostile towards other birds that enter their territory. Magnolia Warblers are yellow and black with white spots. Males have brighter plumage then the females, which they use to attract mates.

My Hood: These birds are found in the damp coniferous forests of Central and Southern Canada and into Northern US. They live in the lower parts of trees and prefer forests filled with spruce and hemlock. During the winter, they can be found from Mexico to Panama.

How I fit in: Female Magnolia Warblers build their nests in the dense forests of the Taiga biome, using the coverage provided by the trees to protect their young from predators. The Magnolia Warbler eats mainly insects, including ones that cause damage to trees. In making these insects their prey, they are providing a vital service by protecting the health of the forest.

Janice M. Hughes. The ROM Field Guide to Birds of Ontario. Toronto: Royal Ontario Museum and McClelland & Stewart Ltd., 2001: Page 299

Norway Spruce or European Spruce (Picea abies)

norway spruce, european spruce
Norway Spruce. Photo Credit: UnreifeKirsche

Details: This is an excellent example of the type of trees that grow in this biome. It has strong bark, grows needles and produces cones that measure 10-15cm. Some trees have been recorded reaching a height of 60m, but on average, they grow to about 24m. Due to its straight trunk and pyramid-shaped crown, Norway Spruces are often used for Christmas Trees.

My Hood: It is native to Scandinavia but common to Northern Europe. It has been brought over to North America and is grown in Canada and northern US.

How I fit in: Like all the coniferous trees that live in Taiga forests, the Norway Spruce has developed certain adaptations which allow it to survive the harsh conditions of this biome. The shape of its crown encourages snow to slide off branches and prevents damage to the tree. Their needles have smaller surface areas then a deciduous leaf, which helps it store water. This is especially important when the ground freezes in the winter and water become scarce. Its dark green colour causes it to absorb a lot of heat from the sun, triggering photosynthesis to begin earlier than with deciduous trees.

Taiga Bluet (Coenagrion resolutum)

coenagrion resolutum, taiga bluet
Taiga Bluet. Photo Credit: J. N. Stuart

Details: These damselflies are decorated with black and blue (or turquoise) markings. They grow to 2.75-3cm in length and carry a wingspan of 3.5cm

My Hood: They can be seen flying around ponds and other water sources throughout most of Canada, as well as Northern US. They have been recorded as far north as Alaska and as south as Arizona.

How I fit in: The Taiga Bluet flies low to the ground and through dense vegetation, which keeps them hidden from predators. The Taiga Bluet also needs protection from harsh winters. Although larvae start to mature in late summer, they don’t finish by the time winter comes around. To survive the cold weather, the larvae hide in ice. They are dormant until the ice melts at which point their development picks up so they can reach adulthood by mid-June.

Tim Manolis Dragonflies and damselflies of California, 2003: Page 63-64

Woolly Blue Violet or Common Blue Violet (Viola sororia sororia)

viola sororia, woolly blue violet, common blue violet
Woolly Blue Violet. Photo Credit: J. C. Lucier

Details: This plant grows about 15cm across and about 10cm high. Its leaves range in colour from yellow to dark green. The flowers contain five petals and are blue-purple with white centers and dark veins. They bloom from mid to late spring for about 1½ months.

My Hood: It is found in the south end of the eastern North American Taiga forests. It also grows in meadows and deciduous and mixed wood forests.

How I fit in: The Woolly Blue Violet adapts to the environment it is growing in. They pollinate themselves because they aren’t visited often by pollinating insects. The plant is also an important food source for Syrphid flies, Fritillary butterfly caterpillars, ants, gamebirds and small mammals. Occasionally, they are eaten by larger herbivores, but not often.

More splashes of colourful biomes are coming your way soon. In the meantime, find out what a biome is and the different types that can be found on Earth. Up next: the Freshwater Biome!

To find out more about the taiga biome check out these links:

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