Trees, like all living things, eventually die. But don’t despair. Fallen trees create habitat for all kinds of wild creatures. Check out a rotting log, and you’ll see what we mean.
Look: When nibbling on nuts, squirrels are messier than your baby brother eating spaghetti. Their picnic sites are usually marked by piles of half-eaten acorns, discarded hickory nut shells, and other food scraps.
Look: Roll over a rotting log, and you might find a sleepy salamander snoozing underneath. These harmless amphibians spend most of their time hiding under logs, rocks, or in burrows. They crawl out at night, especially after a rain, to eat insects, spiders, and worms. When you’re done looking at the little guy, be sure to gently roll the log back into place.
Touch: Run your hand over a patch of moss, and you’ll notice that the tiny plants feel as soft as velvet. There are many kinds of mosses, but all of them like to grow in damp, shady places, such as on the side of a rotting log.
Look: Turkey tail mushrooms are one of the most common funguses in Missouri, found on nearly every rotting log in the woods. Like other mushrooms, turkey tails are part of nature’s recycling crew. They break down dead logs and turn them into nutrients that other living things use to grow. Can you guess why they’re called turkey tail mushrooms?
Dig under a rotting log, and you’ll likely find millipedes and centipedes churning through the soil. How do you tell them apart? Millipedes have two pairs of legs on each body segment.
Centipedes have only one pair. Also and — this is important — millipedes are harmless, but centipedes can bite.
Poison ivy causes an itchy rash. Learn to identify the plant so you can avoid touching it. Look for leaves in groups of three. The center leaf is always on a stalk that’s longer than the stalks of the other two leaves.
Big black carpenter ants build tunnels in rotting trees. The ants eat insects and plant juices, not wood. So what happens to all the timber they excavate? They carry away little piles of sawdust and dump it outside their tunnels.
Hercules beetles make human weight lifters look like wimps. The brawny bugs can bench press 850 times their own weight. To do the same, an average-sized 10-year-old would have to lift nearly 60,000 pounds!
Angie Daly Morfeld
Nichole LeClair Terrill