A tree isn’t just a tree. It’s also a high-rise apartment building, home to a tree-mendous number of living things. Creatures as tiny as bacteria and as big as black bears live in, on, or under trees. Dramas big and small unfold behind curtains of leaves, from life-and-death struggles for food to the trials of raising a family. Join us as we climb from the basement rooms in an oak tree’s roots to the leafy lofts of its canopy. Along the way we’ll meet some of the creatures that make their homes in these rooms with a view.
The oldest resident of the roots is a periodical cicada (sih-kay-duh). It squirmed into the dirt 17 years ago and has been sucking sap from the tree ever since. Soon it will surface with billions of other cicadas to mate, lay eggs, and then die. Although its time in the sun is short, its lifespan is the longest of any known insect.
An eastern chipmunk scurries underground with its cheeks crammed with seeds. The little squirrel is a hardcore hoarder. It works all summer and fall to pack its underground pantries with seeds and acorns so it will have plenty to eat during winter.
A ring-necked snake hides under a blanket of leaves, making a snake snack out of an unlucky earthworm. When scared, the tiny serpent curls its tail into a corkscrew and flashes its reddishorange underside. The bright tail is a decoy, luring predators away from the snake’s head.
Legs churning, a centipede tunnels slowly through the soil. The tunneling keeps the soil loose, which helps the tree’s roots stay healthy. Centipedes use their first pair of legs, which are sharp and tipped with venom, to capture prey such as mites, earthworms, and insect larvae.
Nichole LeClair Terrill