Backyard Habitat – Lesson 1
They are taught in elementary school that all animals need four things… (1) food, (2) oxygen, (3) water, and (4) shelter. Shelter is important. Everyone needs a place to hunker down for the night (or heat of the day) where they are safe from the elements and from predators. Concealment is important when selecting a shelter. Some animals build their shelters, others find a suitable one, in some cases – humans provide them with one.
In this first lesson, we are going to walk around my yard and see what types of shelters are already there. Here is what I found during a quick stroll yesterday afternoon…
First – I found a log pile. I stacked this wood for our patio fires. However, many different types of insects, birds, reptiles, and mammals could use this space for shelter. Note: you should explore such places with caution. Spiders are common in such shelters as are ants and other biting creatures. When you are exploring your yard – do so with care. Oh… and roaches love these spots as well 😊
Next, I found a few scattered logs on the ground. They have been there for quite some time and the bottom has begun to rot. Carefully roll the log over to see what you might find. Yesterday I found this earthworm, some millipedes, and a grub of some sort. One creature I have found under this log recently was a glass lizard. This creature looks like a snake – it has no legs. It is green on top and yellow on bottom –google it so you can see what they look like! The reason it is not a snake is because (a) they have eyelids (snakes do not) and (b) they have an external ear opening (snakes do not). They call it a glass lizard because like many lizards, when you handle them, they will drop their tails in defense – hence “the lizard is made of glass… it broke!”. We recently cleared around this spot and have not seen the glass lizard since. They obviously like shelter in heavy vegetated areas – but are common in our neighborhoods. Maybe you will find one!
Glancing up from the log pile we have numerous large hardwood trees. Our friend the gray squirrel loves these locations, and several have made their shelters of leaves in the branches of them.
Next to the clump of hardwoods is a very tall pine tree. The squirrels visit this tree a lot but do not use it for shelter. They really like to eat the seeds from the pine cone and discard them on the ground. We frequently see hawks in it, and sometimes owls, but neither use it as shelter. These high perches are great spots for them to sit and view potential prey. Trees make great habitat for a wide variety of neighborhood creatures – I would keep them!
The raised bed garden in our front yard is being used to grow flowers and other plants needed for pollinators. These are obviously frequented by bees and butterflies and the soil is popular with worms and insects. Worms and insects help make the soil more nutrient rich and should be encouraged to hang around. My grandson loves the numerous “rollie-pollies” we find here, and other habitats in the yard. It is great fun for us to hunt for and find them. If you have a garden, ask your parents for help looking to see what may be using yours as habitat.
We have a row of rocks that line a pine straw covered driveway. We always find cool things beneath these rocks. Of course, roaches and spiders are very common – so be ready – but we also find grubs, millipedes, and often we find the Brahminy Blind Snake (also called the Flower Pot Snake). This is a small non-native snake from Africa and Asia. I mean really small – like 2-4 inches. They are blue and resemble earthworms, which they often confused with, but possess scales and are definitely snakes. We always find them under the rocks – I have not found under logs yet, but they could be there. Let me know if you find one – they do not bite and are pretty cool!
A bat box can be placed in your yard to attract bats. This box was not the best design, and I did not put it in the best location – bats are not using it – though squirrels like to sit on it. Having bats in your yard may seem creepy but they are actually very beneficial creatures eating their weight in insects (like mosquitos) each night.
It is hard to tell from this photo, but there are numerous woodpecker holes in this dead limb of an oak tree in our yard. Many remove dead trees because of safety issues – but they actually provide GREAT habitat for a lot of cool creatures. In this tree we have seen numerous woodpeckers using (and making) the holes, we have seen a family of raccoons living in there for a while, and most nights we can hear screech owls in nearby trees – we think they may be living in this tree. We are going to do a lesson on owls next week and will include a video with the sound they make – you might have one in your yard!
Spaces in the wood of our garage are favorite spots for the green anole – a very common lizard in our neighborhood. I have included a photo of one I saw yesterday battling another for territory in one of our palms. My grandson is a great lizard stalker and is good at finding them. Maybe you can find one too!
For this lesson, I would suggest you just explore your yard and identify good habitat and shelter locations for creatures. Turn a few things over and see what might be living there. IMPORTANT: Be safe… AND replace the rock/log JUST how you found it – do not disturb their shelter.
I hope you find some cool things. Next week we will focus on some of the more common ones, so let me know what you find.