Category: Learn

27 May 2020

Life of a Tadpole

Life of a Tadpole

You step into the warm sun on a late spring afternoon. As you walk along the edge of a shallow pond, you hear the distinctive ‘PLOP’ of a frog jumping to the safety of the cool waters. You glance down into the water and see the surface looks as if it is almost alive- the surface is writhing and wriggling in the shallows. Upon closer inspection, you see hundreds, if not thousands of tiny tadpoles!

Tadpoles have captured the attention and imagination of all ages, from toddlers to adults.

It’s hard for us to grasp how that tiny squirming speck will one day become an adult frog or toad. Did you know that Ohio is home to 15 species of frogs and toads? Every one of those species must seek out a water source and go through complete metamorphosis: from egg to tadpole to froglet to adult. One of our loudest and largest residents exemplifies the stages of a tadpole quite well. Let’s check out the life cycle of our bullfrog!

On a warm spring or early summer night, a female bullfrog can lay up to 20,000 eggs! She will lay these eggs in different clutches with varying amounts of eggs in each. As those tiny tadpoles start to take shape, they hatch out in one to three weeks. Interestingly, the amount of time needed to emerge largely depends on the temperature. The warmer it is, the faster the tadpoles will develop. Once the tadpoles hatch out, it’s growing time. Young tadpoles spend their days munching on dead vegetation and occasionally other dead tadpoles! Tadpoles breathe using their gills, which are covered by a skin flap to protect this sensitive organ. Those gills don’t stick around forever. At just four weeks, tadpoles start to develop lungs. However, their gills do not disappear until they are almost ready to transition to an adult frog. Could you imagine being able to breathe in two different ways? Tadpoles get to “test drive” their lungs long before they depend on them. If you ever see tadpoles swimming to the surface and darting back down, then you are witnessing a tadpole learning to breathe from its lungs.

Bullfrogs have an unusually large range in development and can spend anywhere from one to two years as a tadpole. While some of our local toads and frogs can develop as quickly as a couple of months. A bullfrog tadpole eats everything it can get its mouth around, up until the magic happens. At first, just a small nub will appear at the base of the tadpole’s body. As that nub grows little by little each day, look closely, there are probably small webbed feet attached to that pollywog! That first set of tiny webbed feet will grow into long and powerful back legs, built for hopping and swimming. As the back legs are becoming fully recognizable, other changes start to happen to the tadpole; front legs sprout, the tail shortens, and the body of that tadpole is no longer a rounded lump, it is elongated and now has structure. At this stage, it is not quite a tadpole, not quite a frog…it’s a froglet! Froglets have fully formed lungs and can be spotted hopping around the edges of the pond. It will not be long until the froglet’s tail is absorbed into its body and finally becomes a frog.

It’s no wonder tadpoles induce such wonderment to all audiences. The next time you are chasing a frog around a pond or wetland, be sure to look for those cute little tadpoles too. Maybe you’ll be lucky enough to find one with legs! If you would like to learn more about tadpoles and see them in their different developmental stages, watch this video or check your knowledge with our ‘Bullfrog Life Cycle Activity’ coloring page..

15 May 2020

Discovering Fossils

Discovering Fossils

Millions of years ago, Ohio’s landscape looked much different than it does today. A warm shallow ocean covered the land and strange creatures inhabited these waters. These creatures, including filter feeders, a few scavengers, and even predators, all roamed the ocean during the Ordovician time period, which was over 450 million years ago. Over time these warm shallow oceans were replaced by mountains and forests as Ohio’s land moved north of the equator. The Cincinnati area is known for having the most Ordovician fossils. This was due to an uplift that happened in the Earth’s crust, which caused a special feature called the Cincinnati Arch. This lift allowed many of the fossils normally found deep within the layers of the earth to push upward to the surface so that we can find them. Now, you can find clues to the ancient past by looking at the limestone and shale rocks in the Cincinnati area.

These ancient fossils are the remains of past life. In Ohio, fossils are everywhere. They are found in all 88 counties of the state. The fossils found in Ohio are special because amazingingly enough, they are OLDER than the dinosaurs! Fossils are useful to us in many ways. They are evidence of animals of the long-distant past, they show the appearance of different life forms and they are the documents from which development of life in the past can be traced. Scientists from all over the world travel to the Cincinnati area to view these special fossils.

One example of a fossil you can find in Ohio is the trilobite. Trilobites are one of the earliest forms of the group arthropods. The name trilobite means “three-lobed”, based on their body plan. Trilobites were predators on the ocean floor and they came in many different sizes and shapes. Some can be so small you need a microscope to see them and some can be up to two feet across. In Ohio, our state fossil, Isotelus Maximus, is a trilobite and is one of the largest species we find. Many times when we find them, they are rolled up in a ball, meaning they had used their hard exoskeleton for protection. There were many species of trilobite, but all are now extinct. However, a close relative of the trilobite is a horseshoe crab. If you are looking to find a trilobite, look in the layers of shale rock where you are more likely to find an unbroken, whole fossil.

Take some time to explore and see if you can find a fossil treasure. Take time to think about what the animal may have looked like or how it may have moved and hunted for food. Challenge yourself to find the smallest individual fossil or try to find a rock with the most fossils embedded in it. Use our fossil guide to look for all the different types of fossils we have here in Ohio or try the Greenacres ‘Ordovician Sea Floor’ Coloring Page. Take time to learn what is under your feet as you explore the fossils of Ohio. Happy fossil hunting!

08 May 2020

Exploring the Forest Floor

Exploring the Forest Floor

When most people visit forests, they tend to look mostly upwards, into the trees looking for birds and squirrels, or off in the distance hoping to glimpse a deer or coyote. But if you want to have the best chance of seeing a lot of animals, you should look down. The forest floor habitat teems with small interesting animals that are easy to find and observe.

When you visit a natural place, you are in a habitat. A habitat is a place where an animal or plant lives and gets all the things it needs to survive and reproduce (food, water, shelter, and space). Habitats can be very big or very small. A bald eagle’s habitat would be thousands of acres in size and might contain several lakes and rivers, and many patches of forest and field. A spider’s habitat might be a single plant where it builds its web and spends its entire life. Larger habitats contain many ever-smaller habitats, nested within the larger ones like Russian dolls.

Very small habitats are called microhabitats. Two very different microhabitats can be within a very short distance of each other, and they are distinct because they have different characteristics such as moisture, temperature, or soil type.

The food of the forest floor habitat is provided largely from above. Trees make food all summer and then drop it in the fall. Outside of the annual leaf-fall, trees drop branches, leaves, fruits, and even whole trunks during other parts of the year. This tree “debris” (as we might think of it) is the energy that keeps the forest floor ecosystem going. Leaves are the main food of the forest floor, and branches, logs and soil also provide a lot of shelter.

One way to uncover the secrets of the forest floor is to roll logs, or move rocks or pieces of bark and see what is underneath. Always remember that as a visitor to the forest, you have a responsibility to be non-destructive. Most parks require that visitors stay on trails because if everyone rolled logs constantly, the habitat would soon be damaged. So if you do this, make sure you are allowed, and do it in moderation. When you overturn a log or rock, always carefully place it back just as you find it to preserve the qualities that made it a good place for something to live. And if you do find something living under there, be careful not to drop the log back onto it. Finally, don’t turn logs in cold weather, as you will cause animals that are seeking warmth to freeze to death. One way to expand your searching opportunities is to add habitats to your own backyard natural area by putting down plywood or sheet metal pieces (or logs, of course). These can later be searched, and you will see that animals will move in quite quickly.

When you move a log, notice that the microhabitat characteristics under the log make it a unique place. When it is very dry near the log, it will be moist under the log. If it is hot out, you’ll notice that it is much cooler under the log. Often, there are no leaves, which makes the soil accessible to the animals. If the log is decayed, there are hundreds of little hiding places. You will often see the white thread-like hyphae of a fungus. Fungi are decomposers, so they break down things like logs, releasing the nutrients back to the soil. As they break down the log, the log becomes food, and so do the fungi. Another great benefit to living under a log is protection from predators. If a small snake is living under a log, it is safe from bird predators (a bird can’t roll a log like you can).

So what are some common animals that you might find under a log? Or, put another way, what members of the forest floor community might use a log as their microhabitat?

  • Perhaps the most common log-lovers around here are terrestrial isopods, usually called sowbugs, pillbugs, or woodlice. They are actually crustaceans, and breathe through gills. Therefore they require very moist conditions to survive.
  • Another common and familiar animal seen on the forest floor are slugs. An interesting feature of slugs are their eyes that rest on stalks. The stalks can be retracted, so you might have to be patient to see them. When the slug gets used to your presence, the eyes usually pop up.
  • Millipedes are many-legged tubes that bulldoze their way through decaying matter. There are many types of millipedes in Ohio, but they are all slow-moving eaters of decaying plants (and the fungi that is also involved in the process). Many types roll up their bodies to protect themselves when threatened.
  • Centipedes have fewer legs than millipedes (one pair per segment rather than two pairs per segment in millipedes). But their legs are longer, and the centipedes are speedy predators. They have venomous fangs for paralyzing their prey, and bigger ones can bite a person. This would not be a serious injury, but most people would want to avoid handling centipedes.
  • Spiders are another venomous predator attracted to the log by the prey that it might find there.
  • Harvestmen, or daddy-long-legs are very common on the forest floor, and notice that they are not listed with the spiders. Harvestmen are arachnids, but they are not spiders. They lack the two-part body plan, venomous fangs, and silk-spinning features of spiders. Harvestmen are thought to be omnivorous, scavenging dead plants and animals, and maybe catching a slow-moving insect here and there.
  • One of the most exciting things to see under logs are salamanders, such as a red-back salamander. This is one of the lungless woodland salamanders – they only breathe through their skin, so they must keep their skin moist in a humid microhabitat. Avoid handling salamanders to keep from damaging their skin.
  • If you’re lucky, you might see a mammal such as a deer mouse or a vole under a log. They often build little nests out of leaves and hair. The nests are like little comforters to keep them warm in cold weather. You will often see chewed up acorns under logs, which are a sign of some small rodent.
  • Finally, you might find snakes under logs. They are there to hunt for prey, to hide from their own predators, and maybe to keep cool on a hot day. One of the common log dwellers is the tiny ring-neck snake, which is a predator of earthworms and salamanders.
Centipede
Centipede
Millipede
Millipede
sowbugs
Sowbugs
Harvestman
Harvestman
Red-Back Salamander
Red-Back Salamander
Ring-Neck Snake
Ring-Neck Snake

Exploring under logs and other covering objects is a great way to open up a new world of nature awareness. I hope you will give this a try in your neighborhood, but remember to be responsible and create as little impact as possible. Also, please never collect wild animals – they should always remain wild. A responsible explorer can learn a lot about the hidden world of the forest floor. I would love to see what you discovered in the microhabitats in your very own backyard – this could be on a tree, a small garden or even a patch of grass. Please feel free to send me your photos or questions to the email listed below: jmarshall@greenacres.org

01 May 2020

Being Green 101

Being Green 101

Greenacres is the place to be – be green that is! Being green is one of our 4 values that help guide our mission. We strive to recycle the best we can, and that means taking extra steps to ensure we are reducing as much waste as possible. Here are our top five tips for being green.

Tip #1: Educate yourself! You cannot recycle correctly if you don’t know what can and cannot be recycled. Learn what your local municipality (Rumpke-Cincinnati, OH) accepts for curbside recycling. There are 5 categories of curbside recycling: paper & cardboard, glass, metals, cartons, and plastics. You can always check out Rumpke’s website for more information. They even offer free tours of the Material Recovery Facility (MRF), which can help you gain a better understanding of why they collect what they do and where these things ultimately end up. Ask questions! Find some good resources that you can ask questions to get specific answers. Feel free to email us at lnichols@green-acres.org to get some answers.

Tip #2: Start composting! According to a Hamilton County Solid Waste Composition Study (2018), 14.9% of landfill waste is food waste. Some of the food waste are food scraps that could be composted and turned into usable soil, instead of sent to the landfill. In addition to food waste, the study also showed there was another 16.9% of landfill waste that was yard waste, which also could have been composted! Looks like it’s time to start your own compost bin in your backyard. If you don’t want to start a backyard bin you can look into a compost service. There are several composting services in the Cincinnati area, including Go Zero, which lets you drop off compost to a station!

Tip #3: Reduce your overall consumption! How would you like to help the earth and save money? Try doing a spending freeze for a month. Limit yourself to only buying necessities such as food, transportation, and bills. You’ll quickly notice that you buy many things that you did not really need and can survive without. For example, maybe try buying a reusable water bottle (which is a one-time purchase) instead of a case of water each month. You might even become creative and start reusing things that you wouldn’t normally reuse. An old cardboard box is now a kid’s fort! Those old takeout containers are now what you can pack a lunch in. You’ll be surprised how much waste you reduce. You’ll not only have a fatter wallet at the end of the month, but a better appreciation for what you already have. And when you do buy, try to buy local. Hint, hint: the Greenacres Farm Store is a great place to get fresh produce!

Tip #4: Remember that this takes time! You will not be able to make all these changes overnight. Being green can be challenging to start. If you use a plastic straw one day, don’t kick yourself over it. Just try again next time. We can’t always plan for everything that life throws at us, and sometimes convenience of single use plastics gets in the way-and THAT’S OKAY! Just remember that you are trying, and will get better with practice and effort.

Tip #5: Look for other recycling avenues! There are several organizations out there who love to recycle as much as you. If your general curbside recycling (see Tip #1) won’t take it, you might still be able to reduce your landfill footprint with a little extra effort. See below for a handy list of common items.

Kroger – For plastic bags and plastic film! They have a drop off box in the lobby of most Kroger locations. See their website to see what all is accepted into the program.

Recyclable items – Plastic bags and plastic film (see website for what is defined as plastic film)

https://www.plasticfilmrecycling.org

Cohen Recycling –  For recycling electronics, metals and more!

Recyclable items: Metals, electronics, some batteries

https://www.cohenusa.com/

Canter Battery – For recycling of EVERY kind of battery

Recyclable items: Batteries-every kind!

https://www.batteriescincinnati.com/

Cleanlites Recycling – For recycling lightbulbs.

Recyclable Items: Lightbulbs

https://cleanlites.com/

Staples – For recycling ink cartridges and other printer disposables.

Recyclable Items: Ink cartridges, toners and other printer related items

https://www.staples.com/sbd/cre/marketing/sustainability-center/recycling-services/

Preserve Gimme 5 – For recycling #5 plastics.

Recyclable Items: Clean and empty plastics with the #5 in chasing arrows or 5-PP.

https://www.preserve.eco/pages/gimme5-overview

Terracycle – For recycling unusual plastics like chip bags, toothpaste tubes, and more! Search on the website to see where you can take these items in your local area.

Recyclable Items: Chip bags, drink pouches, snack pouches, oral care products, personal hygiene products, and so much more!

https://www.terracycle.com/en-US/

I know some of this information can be a little overwhelming. Don’t you just wish you could drop off all of your non-curbside recycling without multiple stops and with minimal effort? You can! Each year in Washington Park, Keep Cincinnati Beautiful hosts a One Stop Drop event where all of these items and more (that are not normally processed in your curbside bin) can be dropped off! Be sure to check their calendar to see when the next one is.

Thanks for recycling and watch our video to learn more about how you can help be green too!