Last week, we kicked off our new, fall session of Earth Club with a group of enthusiastic second and third grade students who are excited to work together to help the Earth.
The club’s main initiative in the spring was to improve the courtyard garden, with the dual purpose of creating more habitat for wildlife and making the garden more beautiful for all the school community to enjoy. The term “wildlife,” in a central Ohio context, might first call to mind birds and mammals, such as those that abound in area parks. But, it’s setting our hopes a bit high to expect wildlife such as deer, rabbits or even squirrels in our small, enclosed courtyard. Birds, yes: mourning doves nest there, and for a few years, a duck chose this space to raise its ducklings. The mother duck and her brood had to be led out through the school hallways at the end of each spring (I wish I could have seen that!).
The courtyard is also home, or at least temporary habitat, for many other creatures: insects, spiders, mollusks such as snails and slugs, and even a couple of small amphibians. This summer, the courtyard was certified as an official Monarch Waystation by the conservation group, Monarch Watch, thanks to a girl scout troup that planted milkweed – the main food source of monarch butterfly caterpillars – last summer. The spring Earth Club members also planted a variety of flowers that are attractive to butterflies and other pollinators.
With all of that in mind, our main outdoor activity of the day was a “minibeast” scavenger hunt. The kids searched high and low, and before long the courtyard fairly rang with announcements of their findings: “I found a slug!” “There’s a caterpillar over here!” “I saw the salamander!!”
Although butterfly sightings in the courtyard have been few, we did find evidence that they have passed through: one chrysalis hanging from the eaves, and an empty one on the ground.
Pictured to the right: Izumi and Pranav trying to get a better look at a chrysalis – see the little spot on the top left?
We also found other insects on the milkweed:
Pictured at left are several milkweed bugs including one adult and several nymphs. Although they feed on the milkweed, they do little damage. On the other hand, the many little yellow insects (pictured at right) on the milkweed stems are aphids, which, unfortunately, do damage milkweed by sucking liquid from the plants. Controlling the aphid populations, to keep the plants healthy for butterfly caterpillars, could be an Earth Club project.
Altogether, the great variety of insects and other wildlife (or signs thereof) that the kids found are good indications of a healthy courtyard ecosystem.
The same activity could be done in a backyard or local park. What signs of wildlife are present? What changes could be made to attract even more wildlife?