Thursday, June 18, 2015

Try It! Micro Hike

In just over a week, I will be leading a week long camp for 10-12 year olds at Briar Bush called "Micro Camp." During the camp, the kids will be examining the life of various ecosystems underneath a microscope, learning that there are far more habitats than the large forests, oceans, and deserts that we usually think of first. One activity we educators and interpreters love to share with kids and adults alike is called a Micro Hike. Instead of going on a long hike through the woods, this hike can be done right in your front yard, just as I did!

First, pick a small area on the ground to study. You can either just arbitrarily pick a rough area, or if you want to turn it into a more scientific experience and do a comparison between 2 or more different areas, you can use a set size for replication. One of my favorite ways to do this is to get a cereal box or paper plate out of the recycling bin, and turn it into a frame by cutting out the middle. Then place your frame on the ground and examine the area in the middle. For my front yard study, I studied this patch of grass:

Study what you can first see. How many different plants do you see? You don't have to be a plant expert, all you have to do is look for different leaf shapes and colors. I saw 3 species of plants here, if you don't count the oak represented by the dead leaf. This is what we see every day when we see our "boring" lawns. But here's where it gets really fun and interesting! Start gently parting the vegetation and looking down low for different plants and all the animals that dwell on this miniature forest floor. When I peeled back the blades, this was my first discovery:
A click beetle! When these guys are on their backs, they can snap their thorax with that pinch you see in their bodies and send themselves flying into the air with an audible *click!*, hence their name. If you ever come across a click beetle, gently flip them over onto their back on your palm and watch them flip back over.

I parted the grass a little bit more and found a woodlouse, aka roly-poly or pill bug. Then I found its home! Watch the video I took of the woodlouse burrow below. In just 30 seconds, how many different kinds of animals do you see in an area only 2 inches wide? (You may want to make the video full screen...some of the critters are very small!)
I count at least 6 different animals crawling in and out of the blades of grass in this video! By this point I've been on my micro hike for less than 5 minutes. 

Just to the left of this area, I come across this rain-speckled spiderweb and its creator, out for an evening meal.

And then I find another gem, a snail!
You can see from my finger in the frame just how tiny this little gastropod was.

All in all, in less than 10 minutes, my micro hike yielded at least 3 species of plants, several species of insects, at least three different arachnids, a gastropod, and even a crustacean (yup, roly-polys are related to crabs and shrimp!). 

Going on a micro hike teaches us all to slow down and to think in a different way. We so often think of the big world around us, dominated by trees, birds, shrubs, squirrels, and humans. But there are tiny worlds of startling diversity right under our feet! I think what I love the most about this activity is just how much you can find in such a small area. Even I was amazed at how much I found when I set out to snap a couple of quick shots for this blog. I think I just may have to go out and go on another hike tomorrow!


  1. What? I have LICE in my yard?? Sigh. It's gonna take until the end of time with the flea comb I own.

  2. Great post! Loved it! Thank you!