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Trailing through Taiga

By Sisi Gao
Illustrated by Brendan Koehler and Jo Ramirez

show/hide words to know

  • Bog: an area with spongy, wet ground that holds a lot of dead plant matter.
  • Conifer: a type of tree or bush that makes cones and evergreen leaves, some of which we call needles.
  • Decomposition: when dead plants, animals, or other living matter rot and break down into nutrients that can be used by other plants and living things.
  • Evergreen: a plant that has leaves throughout the year. Hence, this plant is for"ever" green.
  • Hibernate: the act of sleeping through the cold winter months, like some animals do to survive the winter... more
  • Lichen: a living organism that is not a plant or an animal. Lichens usually have two living organisms, fungus and algae that work together in a beneficial manner... more
  • Migratory: moving from place to place. Birds often migrate to avoid cold and hot temperatures. Some travel thousands of miles each year when migrating.

Conifers in the snow boreal forestA cold wind whips through a huge coniferous forest. In its wake, falling snow swirls and evergreen branches sway. Sunlight filters through the dark green canopy, but it is too weak to warm your hands. Snow slides down from the peaks of cone-shaped trees and clumps on the hard forest floor. All around you, the woods stretch, lovely, dark and deep. You are standing in the largest land biome in the world: the taiga.

In Russian, “taiga” translates to “forest.” This biome is also known as the snow forest or Boreal Forest, named after the Greek Goddess of the North wind. Coniferous trees dominate most of this biome, but occasional lakes and bogs punctuate the evergreen landscape.

Lonely Winter Nights

Moss and lichen in snow

It takes some serious stubbornness to survive the harsh winter of the taiga. For as long as 9 months, temperatures range between -54°C to -1°C (-65°F to 30°F) and snow falls furiously. Because the taiga is located so far north, the sun does not shine for very long during the winter. With such short days, the cold affects everything, even death. The cold temperatures slow down the rate of decomposition so much that nutrients from dying plants and animals take a long time to break down before they can return to the soil.

However, even under the harsh conditions of the long and dark taiga winter, life does find a way. Lichen, mosses, mushrooms, and conifer trees thrive on thin soil that lacks nutrients.

Animals that remain active through the winter sport thick coats to guard against the cold. Many animals eat whatever plants they can find, munching on the seeds of pine cones or green shoots buried beneath the snow. Some snack on other animals. For others that won't find enough food over the winter, hibernation is another option. Yet others leave the taiga and migrate south to warmer biomes for the winter. Eventually, the winter passes and gives way to warmer temperatures.

Bustling Summers

Luna moth Actias lunaAs the days grow longer, the air warms up. Temperatures range between -7°C to 21°C (19°F to 70°F) in the summer. This may not sound very warm to you, but for those that live in the taiga, the summers are hot and humid enough to bring on the breeding season. Hibernating animals emerge from their burrows to seek mates. Insect populations bloom. Migratory birds arrive at bogs to find partners and start building nests. The taiga awakens with lots of activity because the summer is short – between one and three months – and the flowers and animals in the taiga must mate and produce their young before the winter returns.


Images via Wikimedia Commons. Arial view by abdallahh.

Taiga trees

The taiga is also known as the boreal forest. In many areas, conifer trees are dense and the forest stretches for thousands of miles without end.

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Taiga trees

The taiga is also known as the boreal forest. In many areas, conifer trees are dense and the forest stretches for thousands of miles without end.

Read this story in: Français |

Share to Google Classroom

Be part of Ask A Biologist

by volunteering, or simply sending us feedback on the site. Scientists, teachers, writers, illustrators, and translators are all important to the program. If you are interested in helping with the website we have a Volunteer page to get the process started.