Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Rotten Log

What do you get when you put together a park, three adults, some innocent kids and a rotten log.  You might think it would be something to walk around.  If the "adults" happen to be Master Naturalists, it is more like big kids helping younger kids break open rotten wood to use a magnifier to look at critters that used to make little girls go "Ugh and Yeach".  The kids jump right in (with an occasional "Yuck!")
Three of our intrepid Master Naturalists volunteered at the Li'l Sprouts event sponsored by Springfield's Master Gardeners.  Carl and Janet Haworth plus Marlyss Simons explored rotten logs with other children of all ages.   Janet reports that
"Many of the kids were so engrossed in their explorations that they did not want to leave the logs for the other fun activities offered! We had a wasp (Editors Note- see below) come visit and lay eggs amid the decaying matter. (Click on picture) We also opened up a centipede nest. Children and parents alike became absorbed in a previously unexplored world.  It was obvious that a great time was had by all, but we're not sure who had the best time; the children, or the MN Volunteers!"
One of the challenges that we face when digging in a rotting log is the paralyzing question from a child- "What is that called?"  The goal of digging in a rotten log with magnifier in hand is to stimulate wonder and curiosity and help the child identify a "bug" as a fly, grub, centipede, or in this case a spider with its egg sack.  Frequently we can't go beyond that level to identify the species.  Back to our wasp- could it be a Bicytres?  Color and shape are similar so it might or might not be.  Resources such as and various books help but species identification frequently requires advanced training and a good microscope.  Fortunately, the joy of the search doesn't require a degree and we have highly trained people to call on when needed.

Dr. Chris Barnhart sent me this quote which perfectly summarizes the joy of the Master Naturalist at work and play.
“It quite saddens me to think that when I cross the Styx I may find myself… condemned to keep on trying to solve problems…while the amateur entomologists, who have not been damned professors, are permitted to roam at will among the fragrant asphodels of the Elysian meadows, netting gorgeous ghostly butterflies until the end of time.”  -W. M. Wheeler
Editors Note: Jay Barber has identified the "wasp" as a wasp-mimic fly, probably of the Syrphidae.  The key finding is that it has one pair of wings while wasps have 2 pair.  Of course I knew that all along but modest (No, it was ignorance) prevented me from correcting it.  See

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