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Saving Hellbenders with the Wilds: Virtual Field Trip, Oct. 23rd

The hellbender salamander, also called the ‘snot otter,’ is on the decline in Ohio. The Wilds, near Zanesville, Ohio, is trying to change that. Photo: Andrew Hoffman, licensed CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

A smile I simply cannot resist! Hellbenders are North America’s largest salamander. They can grow up to approximately two feet in length (twenty-nine inches). Nicknames include:

  • Snot otter
  • lasagna lizard
  • mud devil
  • devil dog
  • ground puppy
  • (Do you have another one?)

These impressive creatures have been around for more than 150 million years, but are in danger. On this week’s virtual field trip, biologists at the Wilds will give us a tour of their hellbender recovery project.

CHOOSE AN ACTIVITY TO LEARN ABOUT HELLBENDERS:

Join the virtual field trip, Friday, October 23 at 10:30 a.m. Details below!

On your own, inside: Read about hellbenders below. Then make lasagna to honor lasagna lizards!

On your own, outside: take a stream selfie and clean up litter.

Hellbenders at the Wilds: Virtual Field Trip

Friday, October 23, 10:30am

Every Friday from 10:30 to 11:00am, we hold a Zoom call live from the woods. This week, the conservation biologists at the Wilds will give us a tour of their hellbender salamander lab!

They’ll show us baby and adult hellbenders. They’ll share how the Wilds is helping the hellbender population grow–and how you can help this endangered species too! You’ll also learn about what it’s like to be a conservation biologist.

The Wilds is a safari-style ‘zoo’ in Cumberland, Ohio. They have turned damaged, strip-mined land into a center for threatened animal recovery.

If you haven’t registered for our fall field trips yet, go here: https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZUpcu6qqTsoHNKDfYwskjOqiSjAU_4HxFma. You’ll receive the link to the call in your email.

~~We’ll post the recording of the field trip here the following Monday~~

Tips for finding this salamander

Hellbenders are a fully aquatic species of salamander! Clean, fast-moving river water is an ideal habitat. The water must be cool, so shady trees help. Look for large rocks with accessible crevices and places where this salamander can hide.

They are very sensitive to pollution and sediment (bits of dirt and dust) in the water. That is why it is so rare to see one. But we keep hoping we will one day!

Worth Pugh measuring a hellbender
Scientists measure a wild hellbender salamander. Photo: USFWS/Southeast/license CC BY 2.0

WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE

They have a flat head, wrinkly body, and paddle-shaped tail. Usually these salamanders are dark grey or brown in color with dark spots along the back.

They breathe through their skin! So the wrinklier their skin is, the more oxygen they get from the water.

WHAT IT EATS

These salamanders feast on crawdads, smalls fish, snails, and worms. Hellbenders are also known to be cannibalistic. That means a bigger salamander may see a smaller salamander as an opportunistic meal! Gulp!

WHERE IT LIVES

Rivers in the eastern United States, including the Appalachian region.

Hellbender
 An adult hellbender salamander. Photo: U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service – Northeast Region, licensed CC PDM 1.0

What’s your favorite nickname for the hellbender? I personally love snot otter. Post your answer in the comments and tell us why!

On your own: Make Lasagna!

In honor of their nickname, lasagna lizards, bake some lasagna for your next meal! This activity may require adult supervision. Benders have flaps of skin on their sides, which provide extra surface area to help them breathe through their skin, but it also kind of makes them look like lasagna, which is where the nickname comes from.

Smiley woman cooking in the kitchen Free Vector

Traditional lasagna recipe

Vegetarian lasagna recipe

Own your own: Snap a selfie!

More cheese, please! Cheese, as in smile, that is! Participate in Stream Selfie. This is a citizen science project that was designed to help monitor waterways (and healthy waterways are crucial for hellbenders).

Take a picture of yourself in or by a waterway, tell us your location and the condition of the stream. Some things to pay attention to might be:

  • how big is the waterway?
  • is the water clean?
  • are there fish living in there?
  • what other species of animals do you see?
    • learn more about using insects/fish to tell if a stream is healthy in this post.
  • what might make this good or bad habitat for a hellbender?

Post your selfie in the comments!

Rock creek park Free Photo
Promising hellbender habitat.

While you’re there, take some time to pick up any litter around the stream. Hellbenders and other species are very sensitive to pollution. By keeping the creek clean, you help the animals that live there.

Categories
Distance Learning Young Naturalists Club

Nature Show and Tell! a Virtual Field Trip

Have you ever found something interesting outside? We found lots of crawdads at summer camp!

We are calling on YOU to share in this week’s virtual field trip! Is there something in nature that you think is really cool? Have you found a neat plant, rock, or animal recently? One of our favorite things to do is tell our nature nerd friends about our outdoor finds.

Bring your nature objects, pictures or stories to the zoom call on Friday for show and tell. We will take turns sharing, kids and adults both!

WAYS TO DO NATURE SHOW AND TELL:

Join the virtual field trip, Friday, Oct. 16 at 10:30 am.

On your own: Become “In Charge of Celebrations”

On your own: Show and tell here on the blog!

Nature Show and Tell! Virtual Field Trip: Friday, Oct. 16, 2020

Prepare for this week’s field trip by thinking of something to share! You could ‘show’:

  • something you found outside, like a plant, rock or mystery item
  • a picture of a natural object
  • a story about an experience you had outside
  • something about nature you’ve been learning a lot about lately

There are no wrong choices. We welcome any nature-related shares!

Sarah found this morel mushroom last spring. It was a great day!

What will you ‘tell’ about your nature object for show and tell? You might share:

  • Where you found this nature object
  • Why this nature item is interesting to you
  • Something you’ve learned about the nature item recently
  • Questions you have about the nature item (the other people on the virtual field trips are really smart!)

If you don’t want to share anything, that’s okay too. You can listen to other people.

Join us at 10:30am on Friday, Oct. 16.

If you haven’t registered for our fall field trips yet, go here: https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZUpcu6qqTsoHNKDfYwskjOqiSjAU_4HxFma. You’ll receive the link to the call in your email.

If you can’t make the field trip, or want to get more out of it, try some of the activities below!

I’m in Charge of Celebrations

Every experience or interesting find in nature is, in our opinion, worth a celebration. We love this book, I’m in Charge of Celebrations, by Byrd Baylor. It inspires us to make our own holidays, just for us, to enjoy our favorite nature times.

Watch this teacher read this book out loud below, or look for it at your library:

Your turn

This week, keep track of the things that are worth celebrating! Do you have a calendar, planner or notebook? Write your celebration down or draw a picture.

We’ll share some of our own celebration-worthy nature experiences in the virtual field trip. Tell us about your celebrations in the comments below!

Show and Tell Online

Here at Rural Action, we have a bit of a nature show-and-tell problem. Our phones are full of pictures of bugs and weird leaves. We text them to our friends all day.

We even started a BioBlitz project on a website called iNaturalist. People share pictures of plants and animals they’ve found in our area, then help each other identify them. Some high school students found a dragonfly that had never been seen in Morgan County before!

A few of the many nature pictures clogging up my phone…

Nerd out on nature with us! Take a walk, find a nature book, or just sit outside near your house for ten minutes. Then, share something you’ve found that interests you! You can:

  • Post about it in the comment section of this blog! (We love that!)
  • Email a picture/story to me at darcy@ruralaction.org!
  • Add it to iNaturalist to get ID help from other nerds! (Here’s our post about how to use iNaturalist).

Looking forward to learning from you!

Categories
Distance Learning Young Naturalists Club

Celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day in Ohio

Happy Indigenous Peoples’ Day! We celebrate this on second Monday of every October.  This is the same day as Columbus Day.  

What does ‘indigenous’ mean?
Indigenous people are the people who lived in a place before colonization. In the U.S., the many different tribes of Native Americans are all indigenous. They lived here thousands of years before Europeans arrived, and still live here today.

We celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day to honor the histories and cultures of indigenous people all over the world. It is celebrated in many cities, towns, and states.  Some areas  have replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day.  Many celebrations include dancing, sharing food, and singing songs of local tribes.

You can learn more about Indigenous People’s Day at history.com.

Re-thinking the “Discovery” of America

“In 1492 Columbus Sailed the Ocean Blue.” Where did he end up? What did he discover?

As many of you might already know, Christopher Columbus, an Italian explorer, set sail to chart a route to China in 1492. This became his most infamous voyage with his “discovery” of the Americas. Upon arriving in the Americas, Columbus encountered the people, who he referred to as Indians, that inhabited these lands and called them home.

From the perspective of some indigenous Americans, it isn’t exactly a “discovery”if thousands of people already live there. This holiday is a chance to remember indigenous people’s part of the story as well.

Ideas for Celebrating Indigenous People’s Day

  • Learn about the Native Americans of southeast Ohio and try seeing your home from a different perspective! Keep reading this post for more info.
  • Attend a cultural celebration and participate in dancing, song, and eating foods from local indigenous tribes. If there are not any celebrations available to you locally, consider trying to make your own cuisine.
“The Sioux Chef” teaches about how to cook Native American cuisine and why it is important. To learn more or get their cookbook, visit sioux-chef.com
  • Watch a movie! Choose a movie that celebrates indigenous people and their accomplishments. Look for a movie that shows indigenous people in an authentic way, but avoid inaccurate Hollywood movies. We Shall Remain is an inspirational and educational series!  It covers  the “discovery of America” and its colonization from various perspectives.  It includes the perspective of the indigenous peoples who lived in the Americas. Watch it here.
  • Read folklore stories from the Wyandot, one of the influential tribes of Ohio.  Choose your favorite folklore story  and post a comment to the blog!   Myths from Wyandot Tribe.

Native Americans of the Hocking Valley

Hartman Mound in The Plains, Ohio was built around 2000 years ago by the people known as the Adena. They were sometimes used for group gatherings or rituals, or burials.

Indigenous peoples thrived in Athens and Southeast Ohio for thousands of years. Many places in our towns were first made by native people.

For example, many of our roads were first created by indigenous peoples. The James Rhoades Appalachian Highway (including US 33 and US 50) and East State St (in Athens) used to be a well-travelled path made by Indians in the region. This road was called the “Buffalo Trace.” Some of the trails through Strouds Run State Park also connected to this system.

In The Plains, Ohio, you can find mounds built by the Adena people about 2000 years ago.  This is the third largest concentration of Adena mounds in the eastern portion of the United States. Drive by Mound Street in The Plains to see the largest one! You can also watch our virtual field trip at the mound here.

The Adena were the ancestors of the Shawnee. The Shawnee, as well as the Wyandot and Delaware tribes, were the people living in the Hocking River valley when European settlers arrived. Most of the Shawnee were forced to move west in the 1800s. Today, most Shawnee live in Oklahoma, but still have connections to Ohio.

Learning from indigenous forest management

Pawpaw fruit is a wild fruit in Ohio. Local people tended it and encouraged it to grow near their homes. Photo: “Pawpaw fruits” by naomivantol is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

European settlers cleared many forests. They needed room for agriculture and timber for building. The forest looked wild to the settlers. But evidence shows that indigenous peoples carefully tended the forests. This helped give them food and shelter.

They made choices to encourage helpful trees, plants and animals to grow. They increased the number of oak, hickory and fruit trees in our forests. These trees make delicious food! Have you ever tried them?

Go on a Forest Resource Scavenger Hunt

The forests are still full of trees that indigenous people cultivated. Try hunting for the trees on the list below in your local woods! Share a picture or tell us where you found them in the comments.

TIP: Consider using a field guide like the ODNR TREES OF OHIO field guide to help identify trees!

PlantPicture/Identifying FeaturesLocation/Hints
Pawpaw TreeTry hiking through Sells Park and the Ridges! These trees bear fruit that ripens in September and October. 
Persimmon Tree


Find the Persimmon Tree on Radar Hill. There are some at Strouds Run, too!
Red Mulberry Tree


Go to Highland Park! There is also a Mulberry tree at the top of Radar Hill. 
Sumac Tree


Sumac trees have red leaves in the fall. Check around the pond  at the Ridges!
Oak Tree


These are plentiful!  If you find acorns on the ground, it fell from an oak tree!
Eastern Redbud Tree


This tree has heart-shaped leaves that are bright yellow in the autumn! Can you find a bright yellow leaf?

Chestnut Tree




The leaves on this tree are long and jagged. We’ve seen a few on the the east side of Athens! Watch out for their nuts!
Osage Orange Tree



Check out fence lines! These trees were the original barbed-wire. Look for the hedge apples!
Maple Tree



There are several varieties of the Maple. You just have to find one! Do you have any in your yard?

How did you celebrate Indigenous People’s Day? Leave a comment!

Categories
Young Naturalists Club

What do animals eat in fall?

Scientists study how many acorns fall each year to predict how wildlife will act. Photo: “Acorns (Explored 1/28/16)” by Marcy Leigh is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Fall is the last chance for animals to stock up on food before winter hits. Luckily, plants are eagerly making nuts and fruit before it gets too cold for them too. An animal will travel far and wide to find enough food: it can make the difference for whether it survives.

Believe it or not, you’re surrounded by a buffet when you walk in the woods. In this week’s virtual field trip, we’ll teach you how to recognize those fall foods (including a few that are good for humans).

WAYS TO LEARN ABOUT WILDLIFE FOOD IN FALL:

Join the virtual field trip, Friday, Oct. 9 at 10:30 am.

On your own: Gather wild fall foods to try!

On your own: How much can you do with a nut? Face off with a squirrel.

Wildlife Food Virtual Field Trip: Friday, Oct. 9, 2020

We went on a hike to teach you to recognize the many nuts and fruits in the forest (and how to think like a hungry animal!).Watch the recording here:

If you haven’t registered for our fall field trips yet, go here: https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZUpcu6qqTsoHNKDfYwskjOqiSjAU_4HxFma. You’ll receive the link to the call in your email.

If you couldn’t make the field trip, or want to get more out of it, try some of the activities below!

Two wild fall foods to gather now

Human beings are animals too. We can’t eat everything a bird or chipmunk can, of course. But there are some surprisingly tasty foods just growing in the forest, waiting for you to try them!

Always double check with an adult before eating anything you gather outside. Autumn olive berries and acorns are safe to eat, but you want to make sure that 1, they were gathered from a safe place and 2, you identified them correctly. To learn more about foraging wild foods, check out this post.

Easier option: Autumn olive berries

This could be you. Photo: “Autumn Olive Harvest” by henna lion is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Autumn olives are an invasive plant in Ohio. They aren’t great for other plants because they steal space from them. But luckily for us, they’re delicious!

Autumn olive grows in abandoned fields that no one has mown for a few years. So look for it in bushy, overgrown areas on the edges of pastures, fields, and woods (like where the woods end just before the parking lot).

The leaves and berries of autumn olive. See the silvery dusting on the berries and leaves? Photo: “Autumn-olive” by NatureServe is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

The berries are a dark, dull red with subtle dots. They’re close to the size of a pea. To tell them apart from other berries, look for the silvery, dusty coating. The leaves also look silvery on the bottom side.

The berries can be a little tart and make your mouth feel like it’s dried up! But the riper they are, the sweeter they get. They are the perfect texture to make into jam easily.

Challenge option: Make acorn flour

You may never have eaten an acorn. But the deer and the squirrels are on to something. For thousands of years in North America, people who lived near oak trees ate them almost every day!

This acorn flour sifting tray was made by Amanda Wilson, a member of the Maidu tribe of California. Photo: “Acorn Flour Sifting Tray” from the Brooklyn Museum is licensed under CC BY 3.0

Trees don’t make the same amount each year. One year, all the trees might make a ton of acorns. This is called a mast year. After a mast year, you might see the deer or squirrel population increase. They are able to have more babies because they had so much food!

But for 3-5 years after that, that kind of oak tree might make very few acorns. Animals like deer have to travel farther to find enough food in years with fewer acorns. They are more exposed to predators, and might be weaker. The deer population might get smaller.

A tasty meal for a deer…or a human who knows what to do with them! Photo: “White oak Quercus alba prolific acorns.jpg” by Dcrjsr is licensed under CC BY 3.0

Acorns come from oak trees. There are lots of kinds of oak trees, and some have tastier acorns than others! Wild turkeys, deer, and squirrels prefer to eat white oak and chestnut oak acorns–and those are the kinds I recommend you eat too.

Before eating acorns, you have to soak them in water for a long time (up to a week!). Acorns have a bitter substance in them called tannins. You may have tasted tannins before: they are what makes black tea extra dark and taste bitter if you leave the bag in too long. But acorns have so many tannins that they can give you a stomachache if you eat them raw. Soaking the acorns gets rid of the tannins.

So, if you want to try something new, gather some acorns and start soaking them:

  1. For tastiest results, learn to recognize white oaks, burr oaks, or chestnut oaks, and gather those acorns.
  2. Read these instructions to making acorn flour here, or watch this video:
Learn to make acorn flour in this video, made by “In the Kitchen with Matt.”

The Purpose of all this food: ENERGY!

When you eat food, it is fuel for your body. It’s like having a little engine inside of you. A car burns gasoline so it can move down the road. Your body burns food so you can run, talk, and think!

A squirrel takes energy from acorns by eating them, and turns that energy into jumping, tree climbing, and whatever else it is squirrels like to do. A squirrel gathers around 25 nuts in an hour. But how many nuts does a squirrel need anyway?

How do you compare to a squirrel? How many more acorns would you need to eat than a squirrel to do these things?

ActivityCalories needed for human kidCalories needed for squirrelCalories in an acornHow many acorns does a person need to eat to do this?How many acorns does a squirrel need to eat to do this?
Climb to top of a tree7525
Napping for an hour3415
Running for 10 minutes6525
Hunting for acorns for an hour16045
Hint: Divide the number of calories needed by the number of calories in an acorn. **All of these numbers are rough estimates; don’t use these for health decisions**

Ultimately, all this energy is coming from the sun. It travelled from the sun, to the oak tree’s acorn, to your belly.

For many animals, overeating in the fall is a good thing! The fatter they are, the better they can survive the winter. For example, bears compete to eat as much as they can before hibernating, because they won’t eat at all while they are sleeping. (A fun way to celebrate their success is to vote for the fattest bear of Katmai National Park during Fat Bear Week).

How did you compare to a squirrel? Did you try eating any squirrel food? Tell us about it in the comments!

Categories
Distance Learning Young Naturalists Club

Why do seasons change? Virtual Field Trip

red trees
Photo by Artem Saranin on Pexels.com

The leaves are beginning to turn orange and fall…but why? What is happening in the solar system that makes the fall come here, while it is warm other places on the planet? And how do the plants and animals react?

Find out in this week’s virtual field trip!

WAYS TO LEARN ABOUT WHY SEASONS CHANGE:

Join the virtual field trip, Friday, Oct. 2 at 10:30 am.

On your own: DIY leaf chromatography

On your own: Model the earth and sun

Seasonal Change Virtual Field Trip: Friday, Oct. 2, 2020

This week’s field trip will try to get to the bottom of why leaves change color. We’ll show you a few experiments that offer evidence. Join us from 10:30 to 11:00!

If you missed it, here is the recording:

If you haven’t registered for our fall field trips yet, go here: https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZUpcu6qqTsoHNKDfYwskjOqiSjAU_4HxFma. You’ll receive the link to the call in your email.

If you can’t make the field trip, or want to get more out of it, try some of the activities below!

~~We’ll post the recording of the field trip here the following Monday~~

Leaf Experiment

Have you ever looked at the beautiful fall colors of the tree leaves and wondered:

Where do the fall colors come from? 

Well, the old saying that beauty comes from the inside is also true with leaves! When a leaf is first popping out of its bud in early spring, it already has its fall colors inside. Leaves are born with their fall colors.

To prove this you can conduct an experiment. You will need four materials for this activity:

  1. Rubbing Alcohol (Caution: this can be toxic if ingested. Ask for an adults help while handling)
  2. A small container
  3. A few green leaves from the same tree
  4. A coffee filter
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Materials for experiment
  1. Once you have gathered you materials, crush up your leaves by rubbing them between your palms.

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Crushed leaves

2. Place the leaves in the container. Carefully pour the rubbing alcohol over the leaves until most of the leaves are covered.

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Rubbing alcohol pouring over leaves
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Rubbing alcohol covering leaves

3. Stuff the coffee filter into the container so the bottom of it is in the rubbing alcohol

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Coffee filter in jar with leaves and alcohol

4. Now it’s time to wait. Let it sit over night. As the rubbing alcohol breaks down the leaf, the coffee filter will absorb the outer (green) and inner (browns/reds/orange) pigments in the leaves.

As you can see, all those colors were in the leaf all along! Try the experiment with a few different kinds of leaves to see the differences.

Now we see where the fall colors came from. But why do you think the trees don’t need the green anymore in autumn and winter? Leave your ideas in the comments!

All because the Earth is tilted

When fall and winter come, there is less and less sunlight each day. Since trees use sunlight for energy, the trees get less energy. Keeping leaves alive takes a lot of energy, so some trees drop them during this dark time of year.

But why are some times of darker and colder at all? Why are there seasons? It’s all because the Earth is tilted. It doesn’t stand straight up and down. Try the activity below to see why that matters.

Try this: imitate the tilt of the earth at home

Conduct this simple activity to see the difference between the effect of light that hits an object directly and light that hits the object at an angle.  

You will need:

  • a piece of graph paper
  • a ruler
  • a flashlight
  1. Tape the flashlight to the end of the ruler.
  2. First, model sunlight hitting the object directly:  
    • Place the ruler perpendicular to the graph paper (so it makes a 90 degree angle to the paper).  
    • Count the number of squares that you see covered by the light.  
    • Record that number in the table below.
  3. Next, model sunlight hitting the object at an angle:
    • Place the ruler at an angle to the graph paper (your angle can be between 0 degrees and 90 degrees).
    • Count the number of squares you see covered by the light.  
    • Record the number in the table.
LightArea:  # of squaresTemperature?
Direct
Angled

What do you notice about the difference between the angled light and the direct light? 

Which light (angled or direct) do you think would lead to higher temperature?  Why?  Could you hold the light for 10 minutes and test your hypothesis by measuring the temperature? 

Share your ideas in a comment!

Why the tilt causes seasons

You just modeled the tilt of the earth! Just like your paper, the sun hits parts of the earth at different angles. How does this create seasons? Watch this video to see:

“Seasons and the Sun,” from Crash Course Kids, explains why the tilt of the earth and the sun combine to create seasons

Click through the presentation below to review the ideas from the activity and the video:

How are the plants and animals adapting to fall outside? Share a picture or story in the comments!

Categories
Distance Learning Young Naturalists Club

Caterpillars Everywhere! Virtual Field Trip

Cecropia larvae

It’s September, and it seems like there are caterpillars on every tree and bush, gorging themselves on leaves before winter. These tiny creatures are a key piece of the food web: a meal for migrating birds, and consumers of plants.

Explore caterpillars with us on our virtual field trip, or with the activities below!

WAYS TO LEARN ABOUT CATERPILLARS:

Join the virtual field trip, Friday, September 25 at 10:30 am.

On your own, outside: conduct a caterpillar study with a stick and a sheet.

On your own, inside: learn the caterpillars of southeast Ohio.

Caterpillar Virtual Field Trip: Friday, Sept. 25, 2020

Every Friday from 10:30 to 11:00am, we hold a Zoom call live from the woods. This week, we’ll talk about caterpillars, and how to find them.

If you haven’t registered for our fall field trips yet, go here: https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZUpcu6qqTsoHNKDfYwskjOqiSjAU_4HxFma. You’ll receive the link to the call in your email.

We welcome sharing your own caterpillar discoveries or stories on the call!

Watch the recording:

On your own: outside

Become a caterpillar scientist by doing your own caterpillar study in trees near you!

What you will need:

  1. A solid stick you can easily hold and swing (not a wet one that will break.)
  2. A white towel, pillowcase, or sheet to catch caterpillars and other critters.
  3. Optional: a camera to take photos of what you find to upload to iNaturalist.

Once you have all of your tools, find a patch of trees you can easily and safely get to, whether it is in the forest, in your backyard, or at a park. 

Your mission is to survey 10 different trees for caterpillars. It is easiest to survey young trees with leaves closer to the ground.

When you find the first tree you want to survey, choose an area of leaves you can reach with your stick. Try to pick spots with around 50 leaves. Place your white cloth underneath the area of leaves to catch whatever falls out of the tree when you hit it. Then, take your stick, and give the leaves 10 firm hits, not hitting so hard that you damage the tree. 

Watch Joe take a swing at this method of caterpillar collection:

After ten hits, look at your white cloth. What’s moving on it? Did any caterpillars fall on your cloth? Count the number of insects you see.

If you find a cool insect or caterpillar that you want to know more about, take a photo and upload the photo to iNaturalist. The app will tell you what species it guesses the caterpillar is and allow others to see your neat find!

(Learn more about using iNaturalist here).

Joe uploads a caterpillar we found to iNaturalist.

Repeat this process 10 times with 10 different trees. Did you find more caterpillars on one type of tree than another? Which tree had the most caterpillars on it? What was the most interesting thing you saw on your cloth? Share your stories and photos in the comments! 

On your own: inside

“Why is the Very Hungry Caterpillar So Dang Hungry” from Deep Look, PBS Digital Studios

Watch the video above to learn about the life cycle of a caterpillar (we learned a few new things ourselves, like, what happens to their faces?)

There are more insects than any other living thing on Earth. About 80% of all species are insects! And plenty of them are caterpillars.

So what kinds of caterpillars do we have here in southeast Ohio? Click through the presentation below to see their pictures and learn about their host plants.

Have you ever seen any of these caterpillars? If you can, go for a walk and see if you find any. Share your pictures!

Which is your favorite caterpillar?
Vote below:

One last challenge: Write a poem to your favorite caterpillar. Maybe you describe what it looks like.  Maybe you include what types of leaves it likes to eat?  Is it a moth or a butterfly in the future? What type of birds like to eat it? Share your poem by posting as a comment!

Categories
Distance Learning Young Naturalists Club

Virtual Field Trip: American Ginseng

American Ginseng. Photo credit: Larry Stritch
CHOICES FOR LEARNING ABOUT GINSENG:

Join our Friday zoom field trip! This Friday, Sept. 18 at 10:30am, we’ll be looking at ginseng.

Think you have plant ID skills? Play “Is it ginseng?” to practice!

Read about why this plant is so special in the rest of this blog post.

Make a mini ginseng habitat. Go outside and see if you can create a spot friendly for ginseng and its allies.


Virtual Field Trip on Zoom: Friday, Sept 18 at 10:30 am

We’ll be Zooming with you from a secret ginseng patch somewhere in Ohio. Learn how to recognize ginseng, why people want it so badly, and how to protect it. And share your own ginseng and plant stories!

Missed it? Watch the recording here:

Ginseng virtual field trip recording from Sept. 18, 2020

Register for more of our fall 2020 field trips here.

Read on to learn more about ginseng and try some activities!


American Ginseng

At first glance, this plant reminds me of holly and winter holidays. Despite its red berries, this plant is not a poky, festive bush. Above is a photograph of American Ginseng, a threatened plant species that thrives here in Appalachia. But lots of plants grow in our region, sometimes so many it is hard to tell them all apart! So what makes ginseng worth talking about?

In rural Appalachia (including southeast Ohio), people have a long tradition of digging ginseng roots in the forest. Folks keep good ginseng spots secret, and teach their children how to harvest it. The root is worth a lot of money, because it is thought to have amazing medicinal properties. Because it is valuable, ginseng is constantly at risk of being overharvested, or taken too often.

Fun fact: the name “ginseng” stands for two Chinese characters that mean “man root,” because the shape of a ginseng root can resemble a person with two legs! Do you see the “man?”

A brief history of ginseng

In 1716, a priest named Father Lafitau near Montreal, Canada found a patch of ginseng while he was out working. This is sometimes considered the first discovery of ginseng in North America. However, First Nations and Native Americans were harvesting and using ginseng for centuries before Father Lafitau ever knew it existed! It wasn’t long after the Father’s discovery that ginseng from North American began to be exported to Asia. 

People in China were eager to buy American ginseng. A different species of ginseng called Panax Ginseng used to grow wild in the mountains of northern China, over 5,000 years ago. But the Chinese ginseng is almost all gone because of overharvesting. So many people wanted (and still want) to buy American ginseng instead.

Ginseng grows in Appalachia and a region of China called Manchuria. Why do you think it grows in both places? How are the two environments similar? How are they different? 

Ginseng in China was first used as food, then as medicine. Asian ginseng is thought to cure depression, diabetes, fatigue, inflammation, nausea, tumors, and ulcers when eaten! Older and well-formed roots of the plant were thought to be spiritual and bring good luck.

Where can we find ginseng?

So, how do you actually recognize this legendary plant? The first step in becoming a ginseng hunter is knowing where ginseng grows! 

A map of the the native range of American ginseng. Photo credit: NRCS

The green parts of this map show where ginseng has been found in the past. That doesn’t mean there is ginseng there right now. Sometimes ginseng disappears in places where humans have turned forests into buildings or roads, or harvested too much of it. But we know that it is possible for ginseng to grow in those places, if it has what it needs! 

Let’s zoom in on Ohio, where most of us are.

Map of places where ginseng has been recorded in Ohio. Photo credit: NRCS

At least half of Ohio is shaded in green, meaning we could find ginseng in the majority of counties in Ohio. Our home, Athens County, is ginseng territory. What about your county?

Of course, ginseng won’t grow just anywhere in our county. What types of habitat does ginseng like?

Ginseng habitat

You probably won’t find ginseng in the middle of a field or lawn. It is a secretive plant of shady forests. One Chinese legend says it jumps out of the ground and runs to a new place each night, making it harder to find!

Here is what ginseng looks for:

  • Cool, shady places: Ginseng needs to be in the shade at least 65% of the time. Too much sun can burn its leaves, though it needs some sun to grow well! Hills that face north and east are usually shadier.
  • Mountains and hills: Ginseng grows best on hills that are 600 to 3500 feet above sea level (about the height of the Appalachian mountains)
  • Deciduous forests: A deciduous forest is made of trees whose leaves change color and drop each autumn. You won’t find ginseng in evergreen forests or tropical forests.
  • Moist, well-drained soil: Ginseng does well in soil that is nice and damp, but not muddy or puddle-y. It doesn’t like dry places or clay.
  • Trees like sugar maples, tuliptrees, and black walnuts: Ginseng needs lots of calcium to grow. The leaves of these trees fall to the ground and release calcium! It’s like taking a vitamin for ginseng. Have you seen these trees before? 

Joe took a video of the area surrounding some ginseng he found. Take a look at the habitat. What do you notice?

What does ginseng look like?

For the first few years of its life, a ginseng plant will look different every year! This is actually a useful way to estimate how old a ginseng plant is. The number of leaves (called prongs) on a plant tells us its age, and how big its root is.

Photo credit: Rural Action

If a plant is only a year old, it will only have one prong (one leaf made of three smaller leaflet):

A ginseng seedling, only one year old. Photo credit: Rural Action

When it is two years old, it might have two prongs.

When it is four or five years old, the plant will make first berries! Berries are where ginseng seeds are. That means the plant has to grow many years before it can make any new ginseng.

When a ginseng plant has at least four prongs and a cluster of berries in the middle of the plant, it is a mature (adult) plant.

A mature ginseng plant with four prongs and fruit! Photo credit: Rural Action

Protecting Ginseng Today

Ginseng is the most heavily traded wild plant in the United States. The root of the ginseng plant can fetch around $800 per pound, so it’s no wonder people are interested in harvesting it!

Because ginseng grows so slowly, it is easy to dig up ginseng faster than new ginseng can grow. Today, ginseng is in danger of disappearing because people harvest too much.

To protect ginseng, some places have made rules about harvesting. In the Wayne National Forest, you must buy a permit for $20 to legally harvest ginseng. This permit will allow someone to dig ginseng between September 1st and December 1st. 

Rules help, but it is the people who hunt for ginseng who can do the most to take care of it. Experienced ginseng hunters will only dig plants that are at least seven to ten years old. At that age, a plant will have had a few years of making berries. Hopefully, some of these berries have sprouted into new plants to replace the old.

When responsible ginseng hunters come across a ginseng plant with berries, they plant the berries just under the leaves and top soil. They will take no more than 10% of the ginseng they find. By leaving 90% of the plants untouched, existing plants can produce more berries and increase the number of ginseng plants.

Watch this video about “wildcrafting” in Appalachia to learn more about how people here are connected to and protect ginseng:

If you come across a patch of ginseng, do a happy dance! You found a sensitive plant with cool history and value! We usually do not harvest any ginseng roots we find, because we do not need to, and we want the patch to grow stronger. Consider tasting the leaves instead of the root. If you do have a reason to dig up roots, make sure to take no more than 10% of the plants, only dig 7- to 10-year-old plants, and plant the berries.

Want to help ginseng return to the forests? Would you like to grow your own so you can easily harvest it ethically? You can buy ginseng seed from Rural Action each fall.

Have you ever harvested ginseng or know someone who has? Do you want to share a story about ginseng? Feel free to drop your story in the comments!

Fascinated by this magical plant? Here are three ways to become a ginseng genius!

  1. Play “Is it ginseng?” A game where we quiz you on which plants are and are not ginseng. Find it here: https://quizlet.com/525699626/learn. Click on the photos of the plants in the quiz to make them larger.
  2. Build your own mini ginseng habitat in your yard. Using what you learned about the shade, slope, and direction ginseng plants favor, can you create a mini environment with all the right conditions for ginseng? Use leaves, dirt, sticks, whatever you have! Show us your ginseng habitat in the comments. If you have access to a wooded area, go try to find the ideal habitat for ginseng!
  3. Attend the Virtual Field Trip this Friday at 10:30 AM to learn more about ginseng, share your stories and thoughts, and see some ginseng in action! Register for the meeting here:  https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZUpcu6qqTsoHNKDfYwskjOqiSjAU_4HxFma.
Categories
Distance Learning Young Naturalists Club

Virtual Field Trip: Mushrooms

Hunting for mushrooms at Burr Oak State Park last fall. Photo: Rural Action

This week, we invite you to choose your own adventure. How would you like to explore the wild world of mushrooms?

Choices for Exploring Mushrooms:

On your own, outside:
Make a spore print.

On your own, inside: explore mushrooms’ many forms!

Doing the “on your own” activities before the zoom field trip will help you get more out of it. Or, they are a great alternative if you won’t attend the field trip.

Virtual Field Trip on Zoom: Friday, Sept 11 at 10:30am

Go on a virtual mushroom hunt with our naturalists! We’ll show you edible, poisonous, and downright bizarre mushrooms. How do mushrooms help an ecosystem?

Watch the recording of this field trip:

Recording of the virtual field trip about mushrooms, Sept. 11 2020.

To attend future virtual field trips, click here.

On Your Own

If you go outside: Make a spore print

Spores are the part of mushrooms that grow new mushrooms, like seeds do for plants. Spores look like a dust that falls out of mushrooms.

If you leave a mushroom on a piece of paper overnight (don’t move it!), in the morning you will see a pattern. Mushroom lovers use these patterns to identify what kind of mushroom it is.

Mushroom caps on the left, and their spore prints on the right. Photo: Chelynski.
  1. First, search outside for a mushroom! Mushrooms might grow even in a lawn. Try looking in:
  • shady spots
  • on old stumps or dead sticks
  • dying trees
  • dead grass, straw, or leaves

Pluck one carefully. Don’t touch your mouth and wash your hands afterwards. Some mushrooms are poisonous!

2. Next, make your spore print. To learn how, watch the video below. Or, click here to read instructions.

How to make spore prints, from Pepper and Pine’s YouTube channel

3. Take a picture of your print. Or, write a description of its shapes and colors. Share your sport print picture or description in the comments below, or in your teacher’s online classroom.

The artist Madge Evers uses spore print to create art: click here for inspiration.

If you’re inside: Explore the many forms of fungi

If you’re like most people, you picture mushrooms or fungi as something like this:

A classic mushroom shape. Photo: Kathie Hodge, Cornell Fungi

But would you have recognized all of these as fungi as well?

Photo credits, upper left to bottom right: , Brian Gratwicke, Kathie Hodge , Kathie Hodge, Kathie Hodge, Cornell Mushroom Blog

  1. Explore the mushrooms of the Cornell Mushroom Blog. Click on any picture that looks interesting to you! Find a mushroom that you are drawn to. Maybe it is pretty, surprising, weird, a little gross, or something else.
  2. Mushrooms are often just part of a much bigger web of fungus. Sometimes that web is the size of a log–but sometimes it’s the size of the whole forest! Read about it:
    Oregon Humongous Fungus Sets Record As Largest Single Living Organism On Earth
    The Wood Wide Web: How Trees Secretly Talk to and Share with Each Other
  3. Think about some of the different fungi you just investigated, big or small. What are some of the different shapes, sizes, and colors you saw? What kind of places did they grow? Draw some of the different shapes mushrooms might have. Share your work in the comments!
Does your mushroom fit into one of these shapes? Image: North American Mycological Association/Louisie Freedman.
Categories
Distance Learning Young Naturalists Club

What did Appalachian Ohio use to look like? History time!

What are we walking on?

How often do you think about the earth beneath your feet? While you move about your day do you consider who owns the land you’re walking on? Do you think of who used to own that land? What about what that land was like before anyone owned it?

When we study the environment, we often study the here and now: what’s growing in this forest now, what is the pH of this stream today, how is the water flowing through our watershed?  These questions are important, but we often forget about our environment’s history.  The impact of glaciers on our landscape in the past tells us a lot about how water moves today.  To know why our forests grow the way they do, we have to know how the forests used to be–if they even were forests! The pH of a stream is more meaningful when you have its past values to compare it to.

A long, long time ago

From fossil records and geologic surveys, we can tell that Ohio used to actually be covered with water. An incredibly long time ago, what is now Ohio was just south of the equator and part of the ocean floor.

What effect do you think this could have on our current environment? How might our land having previously been at the bottom of an ocean affect what’s here now? Tell us what you think in the comments.

Trilobites, an ocean-dwelling animal, lived in Ohio and are the state fossil.

Eventually, this ocean transformed several times. It became a warm, shallow sea with coral reefs and lots of fish. Later, those seas retreated. This area became largely covered by swamps, marshes, and deltas, home to animals like reptiles and amphibians.

This is why the bedrock in our area is similar to what you find on the ocean floor. We have sedimentary rocks like limestone and sandstone. These rocks form from years of pressure on top of layers of sediment, just like at the bottom of the sea. Knowing about the past helps understand why you can find fossilized shells and hardened sand in Ohio!

A long time ago

During the time of dinosaurs, there isn’t very much scientific information on what was happening in Ohio. Scientists have discovered dinosaur fossils from this era in other parts of the country, but not from where we’re standing now. We don’t know why for sure, but the most common idea is that there was a lot of erosion (wearing away of sediment and rocks) in Ohio during this period. The erosion erased records like fossils of any of the plants and animals of that time.

So, we can make educated guesses about what happened here during the dinosaur eras, but the guesses are limited by a lack of information. Go out searching in your neck of the woods: if you find a dinosaur fossil you could be the cause of an enormous scientific breakthrough!

A little while ago

The next big change for Ohio came with the glaciers of the Ice Age.

If you’ve traveled through Ohio, you might notice that most of it is incredibly flat–except for where we live, in the southeast. This is due to years and years of flattening, scraping, and carving from giant sheets of ice constantly expanding and receding during the Ice Age. Those glaciers wore down most of Ohio. But the glaciers didn’t reach as far as places like Athens, Marietta or Chillicothe–that’s why our area is so much hillier than the rest of the state!

At the end of the Ice Age, the land at the ends of the glaciers would have looked a lot like places that are far to the north today, like Canada, Alaska, or Russia. There were tundras and boreal forests.

Roaming the tundra and forests were great big animals, often described as “megafauna” (mega – big, fauna – animals), roaming Ohio. There were giant sloth, giant beaver, and mastodons! Last year, a 12-year-old boy even found a mastodon tooth while playing in a creek in Holmes County.

These were the beginnings of our native forests today, like Wayne National Forest right here in SE Ohio! How do you think these great creatures could have affected our forests? How might we still see any of those impacts today?

A reconstructed skeleton of a giant sloth. Photo by Paul Gravestock.

This is the time when the first humans showed up in Ohio. People followed their prey–the megafauna–across the Bering land-bridge to make it from Asia to the Americas. Our forests have changed alongside us; our cultures and ways of life changed with them. We still see some remnants of this period in our forests today. But they have gone through so much change since the arrival of humans that it can be difficult to recognize

A little more recently

As one of the top predators in recent history, humans have had an enormous impact on the world around us. What we chose to hunt and gather over the years has impacted which species grow or go extinct.

What kind of choices do we make now that have an impact on our environment? Are there any changes that you have noticed during your lifetime? Is there a species that you used to see all the time that now seems quite rare, or is the opposite true of any plants and animals that you know?

Believe it or not, the ecosystems we have around us now emerged very recently. Even the forests you see here might have been clear cut for timber 50 to 100 years ago, so different plants and animals live in them than in older forests. While humans have always had an impact on their environment, our recent history has left some scars on our land that we are now trying to fix. Other choices we make can help forests grow strong again. What choices do you see that help or hurt our ecosystems here?

Getting what we need to live will always impact the ecosystem around us. But it is important for our relationship with the environment to be symbiotic (mutually beneficial, or good for both sides).

If you’d like to learn more about the early people of this area, you can check out our Appalachian Ohio Culture Virtual Field Trip. We talked to Paul Patton, an archaeologist who has focused on the first people of SE Ohio, and Jon Sowash, the current owner of the historic Eclipse Company Town.

Wayne National Forest

The history of Wayne National Forest is an interesting one. This area was highly coveted by early colonizers for lots of different natural resources. While the SE Ohio woodlands and streams were highly regarded for their value, they weren’t always treated very well. Watch this documentary to learn about the history of natural resource extraction and how Wayne National Forest came to be!

“A Forest Returns: The Success Story of Ohio’s Only National Forest” narrated by Ora E. Anderson.

You can also learn more about the history and culture of these woodlands here on the Wayne National Forest site!

Have you been out to the Bailey’s Tract yet? The Wayne just recently opened several miles of Mountain Biking and multiple-use trails in the Chauncey-Millfield area. Check out the latest addition to one of Southeast Ohio’s most important environmental successes when you have time!

Your turn: what’s your history?

  1. How far back can you remember? When were your first memories? Write them down or talk to a friend or family member about them.

    Mine are from the year 2000. Anything that happened before that is something I had to learn from someone else!

    A lot of what I just shared about our history we learned from super cool science tricks. But we also learn about history through the telling and re-telling of stories. Information passes down from generation to generation through language. People hold onto stories just like rocks hold onto fossils.
  2. Try to find out more about the history of your family!

    Interview an older family member to find out where they’ve lived, what jobs they’ve had, how they’ve seen the areas where they’ve grown up change. Maybe they experienced some of the the history I talked about above!

    If possible, try to create a timeline for your family. Do you know how your family came to America? Or have they always been here? Did you move to where you live now during your lifetime, or do you still live where you were born?

    Understanding the context of your life and of your family can help you to understand why things are the way they are now. Maybe your grandparents talk a bit differently than you, maybe that’s because you learned to talk in a different place than they did! When you understand history, everything in the present starts to make more sense.

Categories
Distance Learning Young Naturalists Club

Happy National Moth Week!

Last week we learned about pollinators such as insects and bats. This week is National Moth Week, so I thought we could celebrate by learning about these special insects!

The beautiful Rosy Maple Moth seen above. This moth’s attractive colors could be warning predators that it would not be tasty to eat! Photo: craigbiegler on iNat

Moths, like butterflies and other pollinators, enjoy eating nectar as a main food source. Most moths are nocturnal (they only are active at night). But a few moth species do come out during the day.

Because of nocturnal moths, some flowers have evolved to open up their blooms at night. They can be pollinated even when it gets dark.

Let’s take a look at two Ohio moth species below!

Pandorus Sphinx Moth

The Pandorus Sphinx Moth, seen above, has olive colored tones. Photo © Madison Donohue

Some butterflies and moths have specific host plant. They use only that plant for food or shelter at certain stages of life. Monarch caterpillars are famous for depending on milkweed like this.

The Pandorus Sphinx Moth relies on grape vines and Virginia creeper. You have probably seen Virginia creeper in woods and yards in Ohio:

Virginia Creeper, seen above, is a host plant of the Sphinx moth. © nicolealbers on iNat

These vines are a good place to look for sphinx moths!

Life Cycle
  • An adult Pandorus Sphinx Moth lays green eggs on its host plant.
  • The caterpillar emerges from the egg and begins to eat the host plant.
  • The caterpillar eats for about 25 days!
  • Once the caterpillar has eaten and grown enough, it buries itself underground to become a pupae.
  • When metamorphosis is complete, the adult emerges to reproduce. The life cycle begins again.

Pupae – The life stage when the caterpillar is in a cocoon or protective shield, before becoming an adult moth.

Metamorphosis – The transformation from a younger life stage (in the moth’s example, a caterpillar and pupae) to an adult life stage (a moth).

This moth can have up to 3 generations of offspring in a year!

If an egg is laid in fall, the caterpillar will become a pupae and bury underground over winter to survive the colder environment. It will wait to emerge until spring.

Seen above, the larval stage of a Pandorus Sphinx Moth. Photo: craigbiegler on iNat

Cecropia Moth

The Cecropia Moth, seen above, has interesting wing patterns. Photo: Madison Donohue

This caterpillar will eat and eat. But when it becomes an adult, it doesn’t eat at all. It doesn’t even have a mouth that works! Its sole goal is to reproduce as quickly as possible and lay eggs.

A Cecropia Moth larvae, seen from above. Look at those spikes! Photo: craigbiegler on iNat

These moths are extremely attracted to light sources, and you may be able to see them fluttering around street lamps in summer. No one knows for certain why moths are so attracted to light sources, but scientists have one promising theory:

This theory explains that moths use the light from the moon and stars as a way to navigate and orient themselves, and have done so for millions of years. But why exactly would moths be attracted to artificial light?

Watch the video below, provided by National Geographic, to learn more about this theory.

Why are moths obsessed with lamps? Watch this video to see one theory.

Activity: Moth Observations

Want to discover moths for yourself? Since moths are attracted to light, it is easy to observe them at night using a few tricks!

Materials needed:

  • light source (flashlight or porch light)
  • light colored sheet (a white one is perfect!)
  • camera or paper and colored pencils to record your observations 
Step 1. 

Set up your white sheet near your outdoor light source. If you are using a porch light, hang the sheet vertically close to the light. This will let the moths have a place to rest as they are mesmerized.

If you are using a flashlight, you can hang your sheet anywhere outside.

Step 2. 

When it gets dark, turn on your light source. Now wait for the moths to come closer! You might see them fluttering around the light, or even landing on your sheet.

Step 3.

Record the moths you observe by using a camera or by drawing what you see. Hopefully you get a wide variety of moths to look at!

Step 4.

Find any moths that really interest you? Check out this field guide from the Ohio Division of Natural Resources to identify the moths and discover more about them.

Another great resource for insect identification is here.

Want to celebrate National Moth Week even more?

Join the Mothing Ohio Facebook group!

You can also check out our Bioblitz project of insect observations on iNaturalist.

As always, happy exploring!