Tuesday, December 8, 2009

What's out there part 1.

( Who knows what paths you'll cross)

Photo by Julia Schwent Novack.

I hope you are getting outside and exploring around where you live. For me, around here as the winter rainy season begins to set it, you can hardly walk anywhere in the woods and not see mushrooms. They are everywhere! We also had our first hard frost here this morning with temps down in the high 20's. Hopefully you have been out Still Hunting, taking Disco Hikes, and exploring several Square Feet of where you live. Well now it is time to head out and take the first What's Out there Scavenger Hunt!

Just like taking Disco Hikes and becoming a Square Foot Naturalist, doing scavenger hunts can help you and your kids develop your nature awareness. By repeatedly asking your eyes, ears, and brain to notice new things, you can begin to develop new habits and patterns connected to being in the natural world. Like I mentioned, I am seeing mushrooms everywhere recently. A couple of weeks ago I went on a great mushroom walk with one of the local mushroom experts and then attended two lectures on mushroom identification. As a result of spending just about 6 hours learning about local fungi in my area, I now see them everywhere! Even while driving! It does not take much to your brain to notice new things and patterns.

So here is the first What's Out There Scavenger Hunt. Take this list and head outside and see what you find!

1) Something older than you.
2) Something with three or more colors (natural colors).
3) Something that smells good.
4) Sounds that  a tree makes.
5) A bird flying in the wind.
6) A bird track.
7) An animal that likes moist areas.
8) A bird nest.
9) Signs of animals having eaten something.
10) A leaf that has lobes.
11) A place where an animal can sit in the sun.
12) Things that could be used to insulate an animals nest.
13) An example of erosion.
14) A plant that could be used as tinder to start a fire.
15) A place where you could hide from the wind.

Once you have headed out to do this scavenger hunt, keep in mind you might not find all the items in one outing, try and do the hunt in another area such as a park or even downtown. You could even keep this list with you in the car so you can mark off items when you see them. This is the first of many scavenger hunts we will do. If you have ideas of things to add to an upcoming list, please send them to me at asinglefootstep@gmail.com.

Nature Nugget:
As winter approaches in North America many of us get ready for much colder weather and possibly a good deal of snow fall (if you are lucky). While we get ready for winter so does much of the animal kingdom. Some animals spend the winter months either hibernating or in torpor. Many folks ask what is the difference between the two. So I am going to clear it up the best I can.

Traditionally hibernation simply meant a state of inactivity and metabolic depression in animals, characterized by lower body temperature, slower breathing, and lower metabolic rate, and applied equally to frogs, bears, bats, and insects regardless of their body temperatures or activity levels. Most animals that traditionally were considered to be hibernating are actually in torpor. Torpor- or false hibernation- is a state of inactivity achieved primarily-but not exclusively- by a greatly lowered body temperature and can last for a few hours to months. For frogs, snakes-(Rattlesnakes and copperheads), woodchucks, ground squirrels, bats, and bears, settling in for the winter in various ways is the key to winter survival.

While the list for hibernating mammals is relatively small, some bats, shrews, chipmunks, some snakes, some turtles, and woodchucks; theses go through the following changes: 
1) Body temperature will plummet until only a few degrees above the cold climate. 
2) Their breathing will drop from several hundred times a minute, to one in five minutes. 
3) Their heartbeat will go from several hundred a minute to one or two beats a minute 
4) They will move only slightly every few hours, although their muscles will retain their tone, and 
5) Their digestive and excretory systems will continue to work.

So deep is this sleep, that often times the hibernating animal is insensible to sound or touch!
Several studies have also shown that this deep sleep seems to make the hibernators immune to many dangers. For example, in one case study scientist placed a hibernating marmot in an airtight jar filled with carbon dioxide. After four hours, the marmot had suffered no adverse effects from the experiment.

Compared to ground squirrels, frogs (who hibernate in unfrozen mud at the bottom of lakes, rivers, and ponds), snakes (who hibernate in hollow logs, caves or dens), and other true hibernators however, the hibernation pattern of many bears, an animal we were all taught hibernate, is only a series of naps or Torpor. Some other animals that go into torpor are raccoons, skunks, and some mice and birds

Since the body temperature of bears remains high (which burns an estimated 4,000 food calories a day) and their breathing remains at a normal rate, their winter sleep can easily be disturbed. Some bears even wake up during their winter nap and prowl around for hours, sometimes days. Thereby, making bears (even chipmunks) and most other winter mammals false-hibernators (or torpor). Torpor also occurs when animals enter a deep sleep when cold weather occurs suddenly or they cannot get into warmer conditions. Grey Squirrels have been found in torpor in live traps on cold mornings out of season. 

I hope that clears some things up. On another note, if while you are out exploring this winter you come upon mammals or birds that appear to be sleeping or moving very slowly, try not to scare them. Animals live on a very limited energy budget. Some birds that have been startled out of a deep sleep will be dead by morning because of the loss of heat when they got woken up. So be kind to our napping friends. after all, how happy are you when you get woken up from a nap!


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