A backyard is one of the most amazing parts of nature. It is alive with creepers and crawlers, lifters and leapers, movers and mixers, munchers and scrapers, singers, buzzers, chirpers, climbers, builders, buriers, and recyclers.
Scroll down to find out more about the insects, spiders, birds, and other critters that live in your yard. Keep scrolling until the end to meet mini-beasts that you can’t see without a magnifying glass or microscope.
YOUR BACKYARD IS AN ECOSYSTEM
WHAT IS AN ECOSYSTEM?
All of nature is organized into ecosystems, where the death of one thing allows the life of another, where everything is recycled and nothing is wasted. Food chains, water cycles, and soil formation are all cycles of nature that keep the ecosystem healthy.
Our backyard ecosystem is a tiny world within our big world. Here, living things, like plants and animals, interact with non-living elements, including water, rocks, soil, and temperature. Every portion of the ecosystem influences everything else.
An ecosystem exists within a larger area called a biome. And yes, humans play a very important part. Let’s take an in-depth look at the birds and the bees and other critters that you might find in your yard that are part of the ecosystem.
CRITTER SCAVENGER HUNT
We share our yard with all of the plants and animals living there, so respect all life in the garden. Observe living creatures with your eyes, not your hands. They depend on your yard for food and water; space to grow; and places to hide, sleep, and build nests. That’s why it’s very important not to disturb their homes.
Before we learn more about the animals in your backyard, let’s see what we can find in Molly’s yard. We won’t find any treehoppers, but let’s take a look and see what we can find! What’s in your yard?
LET’S LEARN MORE ABOUT WHAT’S LIVING IN THE BACKYARD
FUN FACTS ABOUT INSECTS
- All insects have six legs and three body parts.
- 80% of all animals are insects.
- Insects developed on earth long before humans did.
- There are over a million different kinds of insects, and scientists are constantly discovering new species.
- The study of insects is called Entomology and insect scientists are called entomologists.
- Certain social insects have large numbers in their nests. An ant nest in Jamaica has about 630,000 individuals. A South American termite nest was found to have 3 million individuals. Locust swarms are said to hold up to one billion individuals.
- Houseflies find sugar with their feet, which are 10 million times more sensitive than human tongues.
- Wasps feeding on fermenting juice have been known to get “drunk’ and pass out.
- While gathering food, a bee may fly up to 60 miles in one day.
The most weirdly-shaped insect is widely accepted to be the treehopper. These mini-monsters of the rainforest are masters of disguise, and yes, these images below are all treehoppers!
BUILD A BUG HOTEL
If you like bugs and want to attract them to your yard, build them a bug hotel using materials found in your yard. It doesn’t get much simpler than this!
SURFING THE WEB: SPIDERS
Spiders are not insects. Spiders belong to a group of animals called Arachnids (uh-RACK-nidz) – animals that have eight legs. Ticks, mites, and scorpions are also arachnids. All spiders produce silk but not all spiders spin webs. The vast majority of spiders are harmless and serve a very important purpose: controlling insect populations that could otherwise devastate crops. Without spiders to eat pests harmful to agriculture, it’s thought that our food supply would be put at risk.
STRANGE BUT TRUE SPIDER FACTS
- Different spiders produce different types of silk. Silk can be sticky, dry or stretchy. Surprisingly, silk is so strong that some spiders use it for traveling. With one end attached to a surface such as a tree branch, the spider will hang onto the end and let the wind carry it away! Just like Spiderman!
- The male red widow spider force feeds himself to the female by placing himself into her mandibles. If she spits him out, he will keep placing himself there until she eventually eats him.
- For its weight, spider web silk is actually stronger and tougher than steel.
- Females can lay up to 3000 eggs at a time.
- The average life of a spider is one to two years. Although the female tarantula may live up to 20 years.
- If you’re arachnophobic (a fear of spiders) you may not want to look at the following bizarre spiders:
The American Robin is the state bird of Michigan. They often eat earthworms and berries. Robins also snack on insects, such as caterpillars and grasshoppers.
There are other beautiful bird species in Michigan. Can you name each bird below?
Take a guess, then check your answers and find out what the birds like to eat.
FUN FACTS ABOUT BIRDS
- Birds are warm-blooded vertebrates (vertebrates have backbones) and are the only animals with feathers.
- Most birds can fly, using powerful muscles to flap their wings.
- An ostrich can run as fast as 43 miles per hour and grow as tall as 9 feet.
- Blue birds can’t see the color blue.
- The hummingbird can fly backwards, but it can’t walk.
- Condor shells are so thick, it can take a chick a week to break out from its shell.
- The egg of a kiwi can weigh as much as 20% of the mother’s body weight. It would be like a human mother giving birth to a 4 year old child.
- A pelican’s bill can hold up to three gallons of water.
- Sometimes vultures eat so much they can’t fly.
Northern Cardinal eats Sunflower seed, Safflower, Peanuts, White Proso Millet
American Goldfinch eats Nyjer Thistle, Sunflower Seeds
House Finch eats Safflower, Nyjer Thistle, Sunflower Chips, Oil Sunflower Seed
House Sparrow eats White Proso Millet, Oil Sunflower seed, Sunflower Chips
Dark-eyed Junco eats White Proso Millet, Sunflower seed, Nyjer Thistle
Mourning Dove eats Sunflower seed, Peanuts, Safflower, White Proso Millet
Tufted Titmouse eats Peanuts, Sunflower seed, Safflower, Suet, Mealworms
Black-capped Chickadee eats Nuts, Sunflower, Safflower, Suet, Mealworms
Carolina Wren eats Peanuts, Sunflower seed, Safflower, Suet, Mealworms
Red-breasted Nuthatch eats Peanuts, Sunflower seed, Safflower, Suet, Mealworms
MICROSCOPIC CREATURES OF THE SOIL
Every handful of soil is full of microlife. These microscopic creatures do a very important job. They are nature’s cleanup squad. They break down fallen leaves, animal wastes, dead insects, and other materials and turn them into rich soil and help plants grow.
Let’s look at two of these minibeasts.
If you hold a piece of white paper under a plant in your yard and give it a little shake some specks may fall on the paper. If they start to crawl around, they are probably spider mites. Spider mites are plant pests of many crops.They have no eyes and instead, the sensory hairs on their body tell them where they are.
Springtails are close relatives of insects and they live in all kinds of soil. They’re about 1/16th of an inch long. They get their name from a forked tail on the underside of their abdomen. This fork is tucked under their body like a spring. When a springtail needs to make a quick getaway, it releases the forked spring and flips itself into the air.
If you want to know more about springtails watch this short video from the BBC’s Life in the Undergrowth documentary series.
One of the ways that we can connect to the world around us is by bringing nature and imagination together through storytelling.
Writers use different kinds of tools to do this: one of these tools is called personification. Personification is when we give human qualities, emotions, or characteristics to something nonhuman.
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