“The Earth is the LORD’s and all that is in it, the world and those who live in it.” — Psalm 24:1
A Close-up Observation: A Tiny Forest
Look at the area around the rotted log. How does the plant life on the log differ from the plant life around it? Why do you think that is so?
You will probably see several kinds of moss growing. Use your magnifying glass to see the little brown “antennae”-looking things that stick up above the green moss. These are the spore cases of the moss. Mosses don’t have seeds, but produce spores. Their life cycle is very different from a seed-bearing plant’s life cycle.
You might also see lichens, which are drier, and are usually a whitish-green color. A lichen is an interesting organism that has some features of green plants and some of fungi. You can collect lichen — they will dry out and keep their color. If you are starting a lichen collection, make sure to write down the date, name of the place you found it, and what kind of log it was growing on (if you know).
There are some interesting kinds of lichens and mushrooms that you might see — check out the photo gallery below.
Of course, if your log is really rotting, it will also be the home for some tree seedlings. See if you can identify what kind of tree the seedling will grow up to be.
If you’ve brought your nature journal or notebooking supplies, take a moment to sketch the log before you move it.
The Handbook of Nature Study’s Outdoor Hour Challenge #42 Moss and Lichen describes some activities that you can use as a follow-up to observations of moss and lichens in the field. For notebooking pages that you can use with these, and other, plant studies, see Apologia’s Botany Notebooking pages, which include 60 pages that you can use for studies of mosses, lichens, fungi and seed-bearing plants.
The Notebooking Treasury has thousands of notebooking pages that can be used with any subject, including nature study notebooking pages that are divided by habitat, such as “rotting log,” or “in the woods.”
Observation Under a Log: Knock, Knock…
NOTE: Use your judgment when deciding to move a log. Don’t move one that is too big to move safely without hurting yourself. And don’t move anything if it will cause too much disturbance to the environment. You are going back to your home, but the log is the only home some critters have right now.
The Process of Science
The Skills of a Scientist
Okay, so you know all the scientific names of all the tropical fish in your school aquarium. You can identify bird songs from 5 miles away. You have the periodic table memorized. That’s the content of science. WNow let’s test your knowledge of the process of science.
Which of the following is not a science process skill?
Observation: Time to Rock and Roll
(the log, that is!)
You might also see sow beetles. Some people call them pillbugs or rolly polly beetles. They are not really a beetle.They look like miniature armadillos, and will often curl into a ball if they feel threatened. They like to eat rotting plant materials. Put a few in a bug house with a small amount of the composted log to look at later.
If you’re really lucky, and it’s the right time of the year for your area, you might see striped salamanders. These are locally plentiful, which means, if your area has them, you’ll probably find a lot of them. A little less frequently, you might see red efts, if your rotting log is close to a water supply (efts are also salamanders, which are amphibians, like frogs, so they spend part of their life in the water). If you are hiking at night (try it sometime!), you might be fortunate enough to see a spotted salamander, a large, black, prehistoric-looking creature with yellow spots. They are not plentiful, and are more sensitive to changes in the environment. We used to pay $1 to the first of our children to find a spotted salamander in the spring. The first one was usually unearthed in April or so, by turning compost or digging in the woodchip pile. They hide during the day, and come out almost exclusively at night, so be on the lookout under your log.
Another kind of ant you might see is the very interesting citronella ant. They often are confused with termites, as they are light yellow to whitish in color, and they are often seen in a line of thousands crawling along house foundations. They are not pests, though. They get their name because, if you accidentally squash one, it gives off a smell like the citronella candles you burn to keep mosquitoes away. You can usually see this kind of ant in the late summer, when they move house for the season.
The earthworm is another resident of the secret world under a rotting log. Their tunneling is very important to the energy cycle in the forest. Did you know that dirt is worm poop? That’s a fact that kids just love to hear. On another lens, I’ll tell you how to make a worm bin, and you’ll get to try an experiment that will prove that dirt is worm poop. It’s very cool, and I can’t wait to share it with you. A hint about earthworms: people like to take them home to study, but the kind of worms that you will probably find under the rotten log are particular about their home, and usually die inside (it just gets too warm for them). Be on the lookout for my lens called “Bucket of Fun” for more information about raising worms.
Don’t forget to check out the plant life under the log. You will probably see a net of whitish or yellowish threads that look sort of like roots. These are the underground body (called mycelium) of some non-green plants. Some are fungi — the mycelium is a sort of “root” for the mushroom that will grow above the surface. But others are another organism called actinomycetes. Everyone knows about these, but they don’t know it! Ever smell that wonderful smell that tells you that rain is coming? That is the smell that soil makes when actinomycetes grow after a rain storm. We think that bacteria and fungus are what make our leaves turn into soil in the compost pile, but it is really the work of those nets of white and yellow actinomycetes that you see under your log.
Check out the photo gallery, below, for pictures of some of the critters you might come across under your log. Use this journal page to write and draw about what you see. If you want to make a list of creatures you find, use this checklist.
Look for these…
Be a Good Steward
For More Information About Life in the Forest…
by: Donald Silver, Patricia Wynne
An excellent book if you are doing a nature study in the woods, or preparing for a woodland hike. One of a series.
by: Kent H. McKnight, Vera B. McKnight
There are many field guide series. I have used many of them. Peterson Guides usually group organisms by color, which bothers some people (because it’s not taxonomically correct), but helps beginners.
by: Robin Wall Kimmerer
by: John Himmelman
If your nature study is part of a larger one about life cycles.
by: William Purvis
A Fascinating Look into the World of Fungus
What’s in the News Now…
- Video: From Allergies to Deadly Disease, Feeling the Effects of Climate Change
- In this video, doctors blame the world’s strange climate lately, on the rise of exotic diseases caused by fungi.
- Paul Stamets and the Holy Grail of Mushrooms
- One mushroom expert believes that a certain kind of mushroom holds the secret for the cure of many diseases.
- The Strange World of Mushrooms, Above and Below
- Just when you thought that you had this taxonomy thing all figured out, they go and find something that breaks the rules. Take a look at a kind of undersea coral which has part of its life cycle that looks remarkably like the above ground mushrooms it so closely resembles.
- Better Living Through Mycology
- A fanciful description of how the world would be a better place if we just loved fungi more.
- Magical Kingdom
- A quick guide to mushroom taxonomy.