Backyard Micro-Hike

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What lives in your yard? Shrink yourself and your family down to the size of a grasshopper and take a stroll through the wilderness of your yard. It’s simple.

Pick out an interesting spot and lay a 6 to 10 foot piece of rope down in a straight line through your area. Now “shrink” yourself down to size and hike along the rope, checking out everything you can see at ground level. A magnifying glass works great to focus on the small things you might otherwise miss. 

Suggested Items for Your Micro-Hike 

  • Piece of rope cut to your desired length (6 to 10 feet works well) 
  • Tent stakes for securing the ends of your rope to the ground 
  • A magnifying glass 
  • Small containers (baby food containers work well) for catching small critters 
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Photo of a sowbug (front) and pillbug (rear).
Two common terrestrial isopods: a sowbug (front: Porcellio sp.) and the pillbug (rear: Armadillidium vulgare). Both were introduced to North America long ago from the Old World.
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How to Take a Micro-Hike

1)    Select a good spot in your yard to set up your “trail.” Try to find areas that have interesting features for the trail to cross, such as:

  • Things that can be picked up to check under, like rocks or small logs 
  • Borders and edges to cross (think garden areas with edging) 
  • Different “habitats” like grass, mulch, small shrubs, bare ground and tree trunks (to go around or against)

2)    Tie a tent stake to each end of your rope and secure them to the ground stretching the rope out to make your trail. 

3)    Now it’s time to shrink yourself. Sit near your trail and imagine what the world would look like if they were only an inch tall. Think about how huge your house and family members would be.  There are many creatures and plants that are only an inch tall. Try to find one where you are sitting.  

4)    Here is how to go on your micro-hike:  

  • Starting at one end of your rope, you should slowly hike, a couple of inches at a time, taking note of the small things (plants and animals and/or little pieces of them, as well as the colors/sizes of pebbles, sand, and dirt).  
  • Go slowly! Sit or kneel. Try to keep your eyes no higher than one foot above the ground. You can even lay on your bellies while exploring (if the ground isn’t wet). 
  • It should take you at least 10 minutes to explore or “hike” the 10 feet.  
  • You can collect a few critters you find to show everyone, look at closely with the magnifying glass and take pictures of.  
  • Pay attention to the soil/dirt at the surface as well as an inch or two down. 

5)    You can set up multiple trails in different parts of your yard. You might see and/or catch different things.  

6)    When you are finished hiking, you can look at all of the interesting animals and other plants that you collected and compare what you found in different micro-habitats in your own yard.  

7)    Don’t forget to release the animals back where you found them, so they can all do their important jobs for nature. 

8)    Upload your pictures to iNaturalist.

Below are some small animal IDs. For more information on these and other small animals, check out our field guide.