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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!

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

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.
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Uncategorized

Virtual Field Trip: Athens-Hocking Recycling Center

Wondering where all of your waste is going? This week on our virtual field trip, we’re exploring what happens to your recyclables once they arrive at the recycling center. You’ll see some cool machines, and finally learn WHY you can recycle plastic bottles but not a plastic bag.

Look at all of those recyclables!

Join us via Zoom this Friday! We’ll teach you all about the basics of recycling, show off some cool machinery, and give you lots of tips and tricks you can use to make your household greener!

This free event is for youth, adults, and families. It’s led by Rural Action’s Environmental Education and Zero Waste staff.

Categories
Distance Learning Young Naturalists Club

Virtual Field Trip: Shelters, Animal and Human

What shelters do animals build? What can we learn from them for building our own survival shelters? If you’re a kid who loves building forts or dreams of surviving in the woods, this is for you!

I spent the night in this debris hut I built with kids at a summer camp. It was one of my favorite camp-out experiences ever!

Join us via Zoom this Friday! We’ll tour some animal homes, and go over how to build your own shelters.

Even if you can’t join for the Zoom event, we’ll be sharing more shelter-building activities this week on the blog.

This free event is for youth, adults, and families. It’s led by Rural Action’s Environmental Education staff.
~~~~~~~~~~
Friday, May 15 at 1:30pm
Please register at this link:

https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZEqcuqoqjksE9wZMo2PvUgVXRDkk80RzaKM

Stay updated in our Facebook Group

We are sharing every new activity in the Southeast Ohio Young Naturalists Club facebook group. Join our group for conversation with other nature-exploring families, and to always know what environmental education activities are happening.

Brush up on your survival skills before the virtual field trip

Get started with Nate’s basic survival skills introduction. Tomorrow, Dani will share an fun activity to test some shelter-building materials.

Categories
Distance Learning

Survival Skills Virtual Field Trip: This Friday!

This Friday, we’re taking another Zoom-based field trip. Join us for a crash course in survival skills!

Environmental educator Joe Brehm and Madison Donohue will teach us about some of the most basic survival skills like fire building, rope making, and even brewing wild tea. This event is for youth, adults, and families.

Friday, April 24th at 1:30pm
Please register at this link to attend: https://zoom.us/meeting/register/tJwsdemppj0iGNRQB-Rxrq6gdBoIm4sIjj26

You can also see the Facebook event.

Using a tinder bundle to coax a coal to life. This is part of starting fire with friction (i.e., rubbing sticks together).

We’ll explore these skills:
Starting and tending to a fire
Foraging for food
Using natural materials to create tools.

Stay tuned for some activities you can practice to prepare!

Have survival questions or something else you’d like to see in a field trip? Leave a comment!

Stay updated in our Facebook Group

We are sharing every new activity in the Southeast Ohio Young Naturalists Club facebook group. Join our group for conversation with other nature-exploring families, and to always know what environmental education activities are happening.