When looking for wildlife in our backyard or out in the woods, we look for birds and squirrels in the trees, rabbits scampering through the grass, bees on flower blooms, or maybe frogs or fish in the water. It is certainly easy to find a diversity of life all around us.
What if I told you there is a secret underworld in nature that can even be more interesting and diverse?
We see nature that likes to be in the sunlight or needs to be out looking for food. However, there are some organisms that do not need sunlight and have everything they need right where they are. To find these organisms, you need to know where to look.
Learning From Rotting Logs
We have a stack of logs in the woods behind our backyard from a tree that fell down in a storm. We use that wood for our fire pit, but we don’t have fires that often so the wood has been there a while and is starting to rot. The logs that are directly on the ground are especially decayed.
Some people might see just a mushy, rotten log. I see a fascinating habitat for all kinds of organisms. I see a very important step in the life cycle of nature. I see a homeschool science lesson. Look for yourself.
Find a rotting log in your backyard or in the woods. Look at it carefully. You might see insects, fungus, or mosses on the log that you might not see on a living tree. Those organisms live primarily only on and in decaying vegetation. They are either decomposers, consumers of the decomposers, or using the rotting log for shelter.
After you have observed the outside of the log, carefully turn it over. Look fast. There might be insects, larvae, and worms scurrying to take cover in the soil beneath the log or inside the log itself. Under this log we saw lots of ants and ant larvae (the white, grainy stuff). Ants do not feed on the rotting log. They burrow into the log and the soil beneath for shelter.
When you look at the ground beneath your log, take note of what you see. How is that area different from the ground around it? Look at the underside of the log. How is it different from the topside of the log? What types of organisms do you see?
Looking at the log itself, we saw a few pill bugs (or roly polies) and very small insects in the crevices of the logs. Pill bugs are decomposers. They eat the rotting tree. (Fun fact: Pill bug aren’t bugs at all. They are crustaceans. They are the only crustaceans that spend their entire life on land.)
Learn more about the benefits of insects.
The organisms you are seeing, plus the unseen bacteria, are the mechanisms by which the log is decomposing. Some of them are eating the log. Others are eating the organisms that feed on the log. They are all working together to turn the log back into soil. It’s all part of the life cycle of the tree.
How To Explore Life Under A Log
This is a great video on how to explore life under a log and shows some creatures you might find.