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Distance Learning Young Naturalists Club

White-tailed Deer: Virtual Field Trip, Dec. 4th

Whitetail Deer - Brady, TX Area
A buck, or male white-tailed deer. Photo: huntingdesigns 

White-tailed deer are the most common large mammal species in North America. They can be found in all 88 counties of Ohio!

Join us on December 4th’s virtual field trip to learn to recognize signs of deer. We’ll also look at how deer have helped humans survive. Or just read onto learn about deer on your own!

CHOOSE AN ACTIVITY TO LEARN ABOUT WHITE-TAILED DEER:

Attend the virtual field trip, Friday, December 4th at 10:30. We’ll look for signs of deer and show you how to tan a hide.

Read a story about how the deer got its antlers. Try making a nice bowl of venison stew to complete your cozy evening!

Track a deer: Go outside with this scavenger hunt. You may find clues that show deer has been near.

Deer Virtual Field Trip: Friday, December 4, 2020 at 10:30am

Friday, Dec. 4, 10:30am

Every Friday from 10:30 to 11-ish am, we hold a Zoom call live from the woods. This week, we’ll look for deer sign. Then Joe from Rural Action will demonstrate how to tan (preserve) a deer hide.

A note about this Friday’s content…

We will be showing how to tan a fresh deer hide from a deer that Joe hunted. Families who join the call should be okay with seeing the fresh deer skin. (The rest of the deer will not be shown).

You’ll receive the link for the Zoom call in your email. The same link works each Friday.

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

Fawn - Whitetail deer
A fawn, or baby deer. Photo: bjmccray.

Did you know?

  • The scientific name for whitetails is Odocoileus virginianus.
  • A whitetail deer can run as fast as 30 miles per hour. That’s pretty fast!
  • Water shy? No way! The whitetail can swim at speeds of up to 13 miles per hour.
  • White-tails have a four-chambered stomach, just like cows. The stomach helps them digest the rough plants that makes up their diet. This lets them to eat woody plants that other animals cannot digest.
  • The whitetail is Ohio’s ONLY big game animal. It has been a source of food for generations, beginning with indigenous people
  • Here’s how to sign “deer” in American Sign Language:

Do you know another interesting fact about whitetailed deer? Please share with us by posting it in the comment section!

Tell a deer tale

Did you ever wonder why deer have antlers? Many people have wondered why the world is the way it is. Myths try to answer these questions about the world with a story.

  1. Read this Cherokee myth, “How the Deer Got His Horns” (excerpted from History, Myths, and Sacred Formulas, by James Mooney).
  2. Now, get creative: write your own folklore to imagine how the deer got its antlers. If you have friends or siblings, trade your stories and see which ones you like best. We would love it if you shared it in the comments!
  3. Then, try to think like a scientist. How might a scientist explain why deer have antlers? How could antlers help a buck? Do some research if you need to. Share your ideas below!

Antlers or Horns?

In the story above, the author uses both the words “horns” and “antlers.” But antlers are actually different from horns.

Antlers are found on white-tails and other members of the deer family. They are bone that falls off and regrow. In most species, only males have antlers. Have you ever gone looking for antler sheds? A good time to look is the late winter and early spring, when the bucks shed their antlers.

Horns never come off of an animal. They grow throughout an animal’s life. Pronghorns, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, and bison have horns. Horns are part bone and part hair follicle. Both males and females have horns.

Make venison chili

Mmm... chili
Photo: jeffreyw

Story-telling is best in the winter, when you can curl up by the fire with a warm bowl of stew and listen. People have depended on deer to feed them for a long time. If you are lucky enough to have some venison, warm up with a bowl of venison chili! Ask a parent for help and try making this recipe! Mmmmm!

Scavenger Hunt for Deer Signs

Go outside for a walk. As you walk, search for these clues that deer have come through the area:

Rub: A rub is a spot on a tree where the bark has been rubbed away by a male deer’s antlers. This can scar the tree for a long time. So you may find an old, healed scrape or a fresh one

Scrape: A small area on the ground where a male deer has scraped away leaves and vegetation with his hooves, leaving bare dirt. They may also lick and chew on any branches hanging over that spot, so look up!

Deer habitat is forest with lots of nuts for deer to eat. They also like the places where fields and forests meet. Keep your eyes peeled for oak, hickories, and beech trees. Deer love nuts and fruit! Did you know that deer also eat mushrooms!? Now that’s a FUNgi fact!

Deer trails are little paths through the forest that almost look like a human trail. But they are much narrower than our trails, and may seem to disappear unexpectedly. You might notice leaves have been nibbled on at about the height of a deer’s head.

Deer scat (i.e., deer poop) looks like little round balls.

Deer tracks are common in Ohio. Look in muddy places for 2-3 inch hoof marks. Can you tell which way they were going? The narrow end points the way like an arrow.

Help us decide where to put our game camera!

deer - Hampton Virginia
 Photo: watts_photos .

We need your help! Cast your vote to help us decide where to put our team’s game camera. Pick which location you think will have the most deer activity! We will put the camera in the place with the most votes. Pictures will be shared on the virtual field trip on December 4, 2020.

Voting ends on November 22, 2020.

*Already have some cool pictures!? We want to see them! Post your favorite white-tail pictures in the comments.*

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Turkey Talk: Virtual Field Trip

wild turkey
Photo: ASHISH SHARMA, Pexels.com

With Thanksgiving coming, there is lots of talk about turkeys. So on this Friday’s virtual field trip, we’ll look at the turkeys who live in southeast Ohio’s woods. Read on!

Attend the virtual field trip, Friday, Nov. 20 at 10:30am. We look at turkey adaptations and habitats.

Learn some turkey terms. Could you recognize toms, hens, jakes or poults?

Dig and gobble like a turkey. Here are our tips on how to find food like a turkey, and how to call a turkey.

Turkey Virtual Field Trip, Friday, Nov. 20 at 10:30am

Friday, November 20, 10:30am

Every Friday from 10:30 to 11-ish am, we hold a Zoom call live from the woods. This week, we’ll learn about how wild turkeys are adapted to live in southeast Ohio.

You’ll receive the link for the Zoom call in your email. The same link works each Friday.

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

Turkey Terms:

Birds,turkey,hens,animal,wild - free image from needpix.com
Flock- A group of turkeys
Nature,wildlife,animals,birds,game bird - free image from needpix.com
Jake- A young male turkey
File:Wild turkey and juveniles.jpg - Wikimedia Commons
Poult- A baby turkey

Funny Faces

A tom turkey looks different then a hen. A tom’s head has more lumpy parts. When a tom gets excited, these parts fill with blood. They turn red.

The snood is the flap of skin over the turkey’s beak. The wattle is the flap of skin under the beak, attached to the neck.

Baby Turkeys

File:Baby turkey in FL.jpg - Wikimedia Commons
A poult.

Baby turkeys are called poults. They are bigger than baby chicks. Their necks are longer too. Poults eat bugs and grass.

Fun turkey facts

  1. Turkeys can fly for short burst, about 100 yards.
  2. Wild turkeys sleep, or roost, in the tops of trees overnight.
  3. Turkeys do not migrate in winter. Instead, they have layers of down feathers against their skin to keep them warm.

Your turn: Acting Like Turkeys

Do you like to see wildlife? Try thinking and acting like a turkey next time you’re outside!

It sounds silly, but putting yourself in an animal’s place might help you understand them better. Here are two ideas.

Look for turkey food

Turkeys use their feet to to dig up acorns, nuts, and seeds. Turkeys love to find all sorts of bugs and worms to eat!

In this video, two turkeys scratch the ground to find food. See how they find hidden bugs and nuts under the leaves?
File:Turkey Feet.jpg - Wikimedia Commons
Turkey’s feet have sharp nails for digging!

Our feet look much different than turkeys’, and we have hands instead of wings! We cut the nails on our fingers and toes, so they aren’t as sharp as turkeys. But maybe we can search for bugs and nuts on the forest floor like turkeys do.

Using your hands to scatter the leaves and lightly dig, can you find any turkey food in the woods near you? What tasty turkey treats do you find? Was it hard to find food like you were a turkey?

Keep an eye out for scratched up leaves on the ground–it may be a sign turkeys were there recently.

Try to get a turkey’s attention

A tom’s feathers are more colorful than a hen’s. He can spread his tail feathers open to look like a fan. The fan makes the tom look bigger and more impressive. Toms shake their feathers to make hens notice them.

This video is of a tom and hen calling to each other.

In the video above, you can watch a tom displaying his feathers and calling out to a hen. Can you count how many different calls you hear?

Free picture: pair, wild, turkey, birds, male, female, breeding, plumage,  meleagris gallopavo
A tom displaying for a hen.

I’ve never heard anything like a turkey call. It is such a unique sound. Turns out that humans can use their voices to make sounds just like turkey calls, though. Why might humans want to imitate the sounds of turkeys?

It might take some practice, but you could perfect the screech and gobble of a turkey. Watch the video below of the world champion turkey caller to learn how to pretend to be a turkey. If you become a calling expert like Preston, we’d love to hear your best turkey call on the virtual field trip on Friday!

Listen to a human (the world champion) call turkeys!

If you are in the right place at dawn or dusk, you might hear a turkey gobble back to you! However, don’t gobble at them too many times, because it may bother them.

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Exploring the Forest Floor: Virtual Field Trip

Have you ever been out in the woods, seen a decomposing log on the ground, and flipped it over to see what’s hiding underneath? Were you surprised at what you found? Grubs and worms and snails–and all the other squishy bugs and animals that help the forest floor do its thing. 

Join us on Zoom for a virtual field trip to explore the forest floor this Friday, November 13, 2020. Or read on for ideas for exploring the forest floor yourself!

Attend the virtual field trip, Friday, November 13, 2020. Turn over leaves and logs with us!

Read about the levels of decomposition. We’re calling in the FBI (fungus, bacteria and invertebrates).

Go on a forest floor scavenger hunt. We have some suggestions for what you can look for down on the ground.

Attend the 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, our naturalists will turn over logs and dig under leaves. Let’s see what we can find when we get down low on the ground!

You’ll receive the link for the Zoom call in your email. The same link works each Friday.

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

Layers of the forest

As most of you know, forests are very complex ecosystems. They have many layers, all working together to keep things healthy and stable. The forest floor is one of the most important, and probably the most overlooked, of these layers. 

The forest floor is the link between the above-ground plants and animals, and the underground soil and nutrients that help the forest grow. When you look at it above ground, it mostly looks like clutter–leaves, logs, bark, branches–and not much life. But if you take a closer look, you’ll notice that this layer has an entire mini ecosystem of its own!

Invertebrates, fungi, algae, bacteria: these small organisms work together to decompose (break down) that layer of clutter and turn it into a beautiful, nutritious soil. Let’s learn more about what these organisms are.

Levels of Decomposition

Decomposition is essential to all life! It is the process of taking something that was once alive (like dead trees and animals) and turning it into fuel for future life.  

Invertebrates

Invertebrates are the first level of decomposition in the ecosystem of the forest floor. Invertebrates are insects and other small critters without backbones. These insects and their allies feast on the litter on the ground. For example:

  • Ants break down leaves and other plant parts for food. Ants dig tunnels, which helps bring oxygen into the soil. This makes room for other plants to grow. Ants also eat other, more destructive insects like termites or aphids. Termites and aphids can kill living plants before it is their time.
  • Snails and slugs eat a variety of plants and fungi. When they digest the plants and poop them out, they return nutrients from the plant to the soil, so other plants can use it.
  • Worms eat the freshly decomposed soil made by other invertebrates. They filter it through their bodies to make their own special fertilizer.  However, some earthworms are invasive, or from other parts of the world. They can decompose the litter on the forest floor too quickly!

Fungi

Mushrooms and other fungi are the next level of decomposition. In some places, algae is more common.

Most mushrooms are much bigger than the toadstool you see. That little aboveground mushroom is just a small growth on its large web of its underground, cobweb-like “roots.” These underground webs and strands are called mycelium.

A fungus’ mycelium can grow for miles. The mycelium will eat everything they can get into! Instead of digesting food inside of them, like we do in our bellies, they disintegrate the food all around them, then absorb it. Some of that disintegrated matter is left in the soil for other organisms. The process can even clean pollution out of the soil!

Mutualism
Some kinds of mycelium and trees help each other out. The strands of mycelium grow around the roots of trees, and help the trees get water and food. The tree gives the mycorrhizae a home where it can to grow and reproduce. This is called a mutualist relationship, which is a kind of symbiosis.

Can you think of other things in a forest that have this type of relationship?

Bacteria

The final level of decomposition goes to bacteria and other microscopic organisms. Bacteria are single-celled organisms (teeny tiny pieces of life). These bacteria feed on dead plants, animals, and even fungi.

Bacteria are super important to the cycling of nutrients in soil called carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus. Carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus are kind of like plant vitamins. Plants need them to live. So it is very important that they get returned from dead plants to living plants!

Your turn: How to explore the forest floor

You might want: a magnifying glass and a small plastic container to hold specimens

autumn blur boletus close up
Photo: Lum3n on Pexels.com

Now that you know the layers of decomposition within a forest floor, go outside and try to find some invertebrates, fungus or bacteria!

Start by flipping over rocks or logs.

  • What do you see?
  • Can you see any of the bugs (invertebrates) that help with the first layer of decomposition?
  • Can you find a silky substance that looks kind of like an underground spiderweb? (This is the mycelium).
  • What do you think these do, and how do you think they work together?
  • For more ideas about what to look for, try the scavenger hunt below.
Forest Floor Scavenger Hunt

Look under logs and leaf litter for these signs of decomposition:

  • Worms
  • Worm trails
  • Grubs
  • Roly-poly (potato bug)
  • Slugs
  • Slug trails or slime
  • Snails
  • Mushrooms
  • Mycelium (mushroom “roots”), usually a silky substance found in the log itself. It might look like cobwebs or long skinny strands.
  • Ants
  • Salamanders

When you look for these things, try to use all your senses! What do they look, smell, sound, or feel like? Remember not to eat anything though, unless you have a trusted adult, or really want to eat a worm. 

Remember to put everything back where you found it after checking things out! This includes rolling logs back where you found them, and returning the leaves. While it may not seem like it, the forest floor is one of the most important and delicate aspects of the forest ecosystem. Remember, leave no trace! 

Take pictures or make some art based on what you find, and share in the comments below!

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Caves and Rock Shelters: a Virtual Field Trip

A caver sits by an underground lake in Wind Cave. NPS Photo.

How are caves made? On this week’s virtual field trip, we’ll ask a Cave Interpreter about it! Then we’ll visit a “rock shelter” right here in southeast Ohio. It turns out that our rock shelters were formed in a completely different way than underground caves most people know about.

Sometimes we call rock shelters “caves.” For example, you might have visited Old Man’s Cave in the Hocking Hills. Old Man’s Cave is actually a rock shelter. True caves are completely underground, but Old Man’s Cave is open to the air.

Old Man’s Cave in the Hocking Hills is actually an example of a rock shelter, not a true cave. Photo: Daveynin
CHOICES FOR LEARNING ABOUT CAVES AND ROCK SHELTERS

Attend the virtual field trip, Friday, Nov. 6 at 10:30. See Wind Cave and an Ohio rock shelter.

Learn about erosion and rock formations in Hocking Hills: Watch these fun videos from Camp Oty’Okwa.

Virtual Field Trip: Friday, Nov. 6 at 10:30 am

Friday, October 23, 10:30am

Every Friday from 10:30 to 11:15 am, we hold a Zoom call live from the woods. This week, we’ll meet a Cave Interpreter, and visit a rock shelter here in Southeast Ohio.

If you haven’t registered for our fall field trips yet, visit here:

You’ll receive the Zoom link for our virtual field trips in your email.

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

Inside Wind Cave. NPS Photo.

Long Live Rock (Shelters)! The story of the Hocking Hills

First, let’s take a big jump back in time. Can you imagine most of Ohio covered in ice? Millions of years ago, it was! 

A glacier is a huge, slow-moving sheet of ice. As glaciers moved across the land, they left their mark on the landscape. Many of Ohio’s landforms, which are features that you can see on the surface of the Earth, were created by glaciers.

Argentina: Glaciers | Evaneos
This is a glacier in Argentina

If you live in southeast Ohio, you live in the part of Ohio that is “unglaciated” . That just means the glacier didn’t go through that area. Take a journey with Miranda to see some of southeast Ohio’s geology and how it was created. 

Miranda introduces us to a cool sandstone rock formation in the Hocking Hills. What used to be there millions of years ago that deposited that sand?

The structure in the video is commonly called a rock shelter. A rock shelter is a shallow cave-like opening at the base of a bluff or cliff. This is different from other landforms such as caves because it doesn’t go underground. In the next video, we will see a fun example of how a structure like this is created.

Miranda shows us how rock turned into this rock shelter.

In this next video we will explore what erosion, weathering, and deposition and what their impact on the land is. Here is a chart that explains each:

So now we know what weathering is! Let’s explore the 3 different kinds of weathering. 

Here are some examples to think about:

Physical weathering: rust on a tool that was left outside

Biological weathering: weeds coming up through a sidewalk

Chemical weathering: old gravestones disintegrating 

In the second video, we did the Oreo cookie example. Miranda talked about how some of the rock was softer than the other. Click on the next video to see a cool experiment with some of the rocks from the rock shelter.

Thank you for watching! Make sure you go out and practice spotting erosion, weathering, and deposition in your area!


Art Activity: Draw what you learned

  •  Using what you learned in the lesson, draw a picture that includes weathering, erosion, and depositions and as many landforms as you want. Make sure everything is labeled. I attached my example: 
Miranda's drawing of different landforms and how they are forming.

On Your Own: Take an Erosion Walk!

Now that you’ve learned about how rocks change, it’s time to take a walk outside! Erosion and weathering doesn’t always look like big rock shelters or cliffs. It can also happen to the soil in your yard, along sidewalks or construction sites, on the edges of creeks…any soil or rock might be affected!

Review some of the words you learned above, and hunt for signs of:

  • erosion
  • physical weathering
  • biological weathering
  • chemical weathering
  • deposition.

Tell us what you find or share a photo in the comments!

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Virtual Field Trip: Halloween Special on Fear in Nature

What is fear?

Fear is a part of our everyday life. It may even have evolved because it is useful: fear helps us recognize danger, so that we can survive!

But sometimes, we are afraid even where there is not danger. Many people are afraid of spiders, the dark, or snakes. But you weren’t born with these fears. You learned them.

The best way to get over your fears? Learn about them! On this week’s virtual field trip, we’ll talk about spiders and other crawly creatures. Face your fears with us, and see if it changes your mind!

CHOOSE HOW YOU WILL FACE YOUR FEARS:

Attend the virtual field trip, Friday, October 30th at 10:30. Meet spiders and other crawly creatures.

Play the Spider Memory game! It will help you learn which Ohio spiders are harmless or venomous.

Interview a spider: Find a spider to observe. You may find it is more cool than scary.

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

I think this jumping spider is actually pretty cute.

Join us Halloween zoom special as we discuss many common outdoor fears! Learn what you should be careful of in the woods, and what is actually harmless.

We’ll meet a not-so-scary animal with no legs! And a few other animals with lots of legs. Spider expert Sarah Rose will visit to teach us about ways spiders hunt.

You are welcome to share what you are afraid of in nature, big or small.

Register for fall field trips!

~~We’ll post the recording of the event here by the following Monday.~~

Can’t make it? Read on to try some fear-conquering activities on your own!

Get to Know Ohio’s Spiders

a white-banded crab spider sitting in the center of a passionflower
Can you spot the white-banded crab spider in this picture? Darcy found it camouflaged on the passionflowers in her garden.

What role do spiders play in the ecosystem?

Spiders are predators, which means they eat other insects and even each other.  Predators are an important part of the food web. They help control insect populations:

  • They can help control indoor pest infestations (so your house isn’t overwhelmed with bugs)
  • They help control pest infestations in agricultural fields (so that insects don’t eat everything in farmers’ fields or gardens).

Humans and Spiders:  Do we need to be scared of spiders?

Are you scared of spiders? Many people have a fear of spiders. This is known as arachnophobia. But here are some reasons you don’t need to be afraid!

  • Most spiders do have venom.  But this venom is not harmful to humans! It is for hunting their small prey.
  • Spiders rarely bite humans. We think spiders bite more often than they actually do. This is because doctors have misdiagnosed bites and people have misidentified spiders.

Want to learn more?

Check out the Ohio Department of Natural Resource Spiders of Ohio Guide (pdf) to learn about 54 more spiders found in Ohio: 

Play the spider memory game

Go through this presentation to learn about 10 spiders found in Ohio.  At the end of the presentation, play 3 rounds of memory to become an expert identifier of these 10 spiders!

Here’s a video with instructions on playing the game:

You might have noticed that there are only two spiders in Ohio whose bites could be serious: the recluse and the black widow. They are rare spiders! Learn more about the rare biting spiders in Ohio here.

Try this: Interview a Spider

Our friend met a yellow garden spider!

Conduct an interview with a spider! You will need a paper & writing utensil to take notes during your interview.

First, go outside and try to find a spider. Here are some tips for finding your 8-legged friend:

  • Flip over some old logs or stones.
  • Look in webs between trees or on the outside of buildings.
  • Use a stick to look through leaf litter on the ground or in tall grass

Like we said above, there are only two spiders in Ohio that are a concern for human health:

  • Brown recluses are all brown with darker “violin shape” on their abdomen. Ohio is at the far edge of their home range, so they are rare.
  • Black widows are a shiny black, with a bright red hourglass or triangles on their belly.

    You can safely ask any other spider for an interview. That means most of the spiders you meet!

Once you find a spider, do not pick it up or trap it in anything. Just observe politely!

During the interview, pretend you are following the spider around like a news reporter, documenting the daily life of the spider.

I met this fishing spider on a tree. After a nice interview, it told me it was on its way to go fishing for insects at the creek.

You can also try asking your spider its name. But if it doesn’t answer, check out the ODNR Spiders of Ohio guide to see if you can identify it.

Here are some activities you can do during your interview:

  • Draw a picture or take a picture of the spider
  • Once you identify the spider, note 3 facts from the field guide about the spider.
  • Observe the spider’s actions during your interview. Is the spider fast or slow? Is it hiding or hunting bugs? Can the spider jump or swim?
  • What is interesting to you about the spider? Is there any bright colors on the spider? Is there anything unique about the spider?

After your interview is over, share your interview with a friend or family member. Or tell us about it in the comments below!

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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~~

Where Hellbenders Live

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 species like 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.

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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!