How to Take Your Kids on a Backyard Safari

One Methods:In streams and ponds

Without traveling further than your property line, your children can have a safari in their own backyard even if you live in the city. A backyard is teeming with all kids of life, if you know where to look. There could be ants, caterpillars, spiders, toads, moths, butterflies, or more.


These creatures are found in the eastern United States, especially in Michigan.

Steps

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    Check out shady places in your backyard like under a thick growth of plants. Toads love cool and damp places like that. Toads are like tan colored frogs, but they have bumpy skin. The large brown wart behind each eye tastes bad if bitten, so that makes animals not want to eat toads. Toads eat small insects, like mosquitoes, and come out at night. Toads will try to scare you if you pick them up, they will pee on you!
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    Find a corner where 2 walls meet. Now look for a horizontal web with a funnel in one corner. Funnel spiders in the US are not dangerous. Funnel spiders in Australia are! This is where the female spider hides during the day. She comes out in the evening when the light is dim and eats insects that fall in the web. Male funnel web spiders do not spin webs and wander around your yard eating things like mosquitoes. Funnel spiders look somewhat fuzzy, are light tan, with darker stripes on the back.
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    Now look in any place where insects fly, and where there are branches to connect the corners of the web. Look for a circular web shaped like a bulls eye. Orb weaver spiders make these webs. At sunrise the webs collect dew and are easily seen.
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    Look on plants and find a caterpillar. Caterpillars are baby butterflies or moths. They eat plants. What color is it? Some caterpillars get quite large, up to 8–10 inches (20.3–25.4 cm) long, like tomato hornworms. If you have tomato plants in your yard, you will probably have tomato hornworm caterpillars. Hornworms have a little horn on their rear end.
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    To look for hornworms, look on tomato plants. Look for a little pile of droppings in the evening. Now look to the leaf right above the droppings, under the leaf. Is he there?
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    Look for funnels in sandy places, often next to the foundation of houses where grass does not grow. Ant lions are also called "doodle bugs". The ant lion waits for an ant to fall into the funnel, then he throws sand at the ant to make it fall down to the base. When the ant gets to the bottom, the ant lion drags him under the sand. Don't worry, there are plenty of ants left.
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    Go to some flowers and look for any moths or butterflies. In general, moths have feathery antennas, and butterflies have thin, smooth antennas. Butterflies love: purple coneflowers, butterfly weed, butterfly bush, and other flowers that have lots of nectar. Do not touch the butterfly, you are a giant to them and you could easily damage their wings.
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    Look at the flowers some more, you might see bees. Bees also like the nectar from the same flowers as butterflies. There are many kinds of bees, including honey bees, larger bumblebees, and even larger carpenter bees. Honey bees are just a little fuzzy with a yellow/gold abdomen. Bumble bees are very fuzzy with black and yellow. Honey bees gather pollen on their legs and use it to make honey in their hive.
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    Wasps like the same types of flowers as bees and butterflies. You will often find them together. Do not touch the wasps, they can sting if they get scared. Wasps come in many colors too. The yellow-jackets are yellow and black. Steel blue cricket killers are an iridescent black/blue. The cuckoo wasp is a metallic green. Wasps in the US range from very tiny 14 inch (0.6 cm), to 4 inch (10.2 cm) long cicada killers (they do sting), to 6 inch (15.2 cm) long megarhyssa. The megarhyssa has a 3" body, 3" egg tube, but no stinger.
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    Turn over a large piece of wood, a pile of damp leaves, or a large rock. There are several bugs you might find here.
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    Pill bugs, or "roly polies", roll into a ball when scared. You can pick one up. It might crawl on you and tickle you, or it might roll into a ball. Gently poke it to make it roll into a ball. After a minute (be real still) it will unroll and wander around in your hand. Pill bugs eat dead wood or dead leaves.
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    Slugs are soft-bodied blobs which make slime. They are safe to pick up, but are messy. They have 2-4 antennas which are their eyes. They leave a slime trail wherever they go. They need a damp place to live.
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    Worms will also be found in damp covered places. They eat dead leaves also.
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    Centipedes are also found here. The common centipede is a golden color, flat, and has many legs that stick way out from its side.
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    Millipedes are also here. They look like a tube with legs going straight up and down. They are not flat. You can catch them, but they will probably freeze. If you hold real still and do not breathe on them they might start moving again.
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    Ants are also found under objects, or between cracks in the sidewalk. There are many sizes of ants, from the tiny brown sugar ants, commonly found between your sidewalk cracks (which also appear in your kitchen looking for sugary foods), to larger carpenter ants which eat wood.
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    On plants you might find a shield shaped bug. They eat other bugs and are called "shield bugs".
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    You might also find other types of beetles. Japanese beetles are smaller beetles and have iridescent, metallic green and yellow colors. June beetles are a dark brown. They do not bite, and are slow moving. They can fly and they might try to fly away if you pick them up!

In streams and ponds

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    Streams and ponds are fun places to find critters. You should get a heavy duty minnow net with a 5 foot (1.5 m) handle so your teacher can scrape the bottom of the pond or stream.
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    Use the net to scrape the bottom of a stream or pond. Make good contact with the bottom the whole time then quickly bring up the net so nothing swims out of it.
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    Crayfish are simply freshwater lobsters. Crayfish can really hurt if they pinch you, you must be specially trained to pick up an adult crayfish. If the crayfish is under an inch it should not be able to pinch you. Crayfish eat dead and dying plants and animals on the bottom of the stream. Crayfish have many names like: crawfish, clawfish, mudbug, and others.
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    Minnows are also found in ponds and streams. They eat things that are smaller than themselves. There are too many types of minnows to name. but if the adult is less then 4 inches (10.2 cm) long, it's probably a minnow. In the spring they swarm by the hundreds or thousands in the same place to lay eggs.
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    Water scorpions (the US name) live underwater but they breathe air. They look like skinny sticks with legs. Some have a breathing tube as their tail, which they poke above the water to breathe. If you catch one in a net it is safe to pick them up GENTLY by the breathing tube. Don't get near their mouth, they will bite if scared! They eat anything that swims by.
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    Tadpoles are baby frogs or toads. Toad tadpoles, or "toadpoles", are solid black and the smallest of the bunch. Frog tadpoles are always shades of green and tan. Bullfrog tadpoles can take up to 2 years to turn into a frog, and they are the biggest of them all! The head and tail can measure 3 inches (7.6 cm)!
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    The giant water bug is football-shaped, and 3–5 inches (7.6–12.7 cm) long, dark colored, and mostly flat. Pick it up by the sides so it doesn't bite you. It is also called a "toe biter" because sometimes swimmers step on them, they get scared, and bite the person on the toe. The bite is not dangerous but it sure hurts! Giant water bugs can fly. They come out at night and can be found below porch lamps there were turned on at night. They can also be found after they land in a pool, or land on a car windshield because it looks like water. In some countries, like India, the giant water bug is called a "water scorpion".
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    Mosquito larva, aka "wigglers". Mosquito larva are worm-shaped, but have to breathe air. If they feel someone walking buy, or see a moving shadow, they will wiggle themselves in an "S" shape to the bottom of the pool. Wigglers can be found in almost any standing water. Adult midges look just like mosquitoes but midges do not bite. Larva get to 12 inch (1.3 cm) long at most. Mosquito larva that look like a comma will hatch into adults within 24 hours.
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    Glass shrimp are found only in some southern US ponds without fish. They are called "glass" shrimp because they are clear. Their stomach is at the top of their back, behind their eyes, and you can see what he ate. They are also called "ghost shrimp".
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    Triops are also found in temporary ponds that dry up in the summer. They are also called "tadpole shrimp". They have short life spans, about 6-8 weeks. They look like tiny 1–2 inch (2.5–5.1 cm) long horseshoe crabs. Their eggs survive drying, so they are sold in hobby stores. The triops got its name because it has 3 eyes, although you can see only 2. The shape of its eyes make it look mad, but it is safe to pick up. It may flop around in your hand and tickle you.

Tips

  • As preparation the kids can make paper safari hats, paper butterflies, or draw caterpillars.
  • Make sure all kids wash their hands after the Backyard Safari. Especially if they touched critters.
  • Mosquitoes provide food for several types of animals, like toads, frogs, some birds, and bats. Do not harm the animals, just look at them.

Warnings

  • Blowing on bugs makes most of them angry, especially if they are bees or wasps! Do not blow on the bugs.
  • Wheel bugs can bite! They have a half of a gear on top of their neck, a long skinny head, and thin straw mouth for sucking.
  • Do not bother the black and yellow wasps called yellow jackets. They are very aggressive and will sting multiple times if you get too close. Stay 10 feet (3.0 m) away from their nests, which are made of gray paper! Their yellow and black stripes are about equal width, and they are about 1.25 inches (3.2 cm) long. Their wings go straight back and do not cross when at rest.

Article Info

Categories: Backyard Games