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Animals, fungi, & lichen my neighborhood & maybe beyond

Animals on the School lawn, backyard, field, or woods next door

Questioning is the basis of all learning.


Copy and paste this journal into an electronic document to make your own journal or field guide to record your study of outdoor environments and their animal and fungi life. Or print it out, write on it, and add pages when necessary.

Suggested gear for exploration

  • Smart phone, digital camera
  • Laptop, Notebook, lab book, journal, hardcover book
  • Writing and drawing materials: pens, pencils, colored pencils, watercolor set, sharpie or permanent marker
  • Magnifying glass
  • Small ruler
  • Trowel to dig
  • Insect nets
  • Pocket knife or plastic knife
  • Waxed paper bags
  • Field guides
  • Paper mask to protect from breathing spores
  • Bottle of water
  • Sun screen
  • Insect and tick repellent
  • Backpack or bag to carry everything

Always get permission to explore and conduct any investigations you plan for the area you will visit. And always make sure another person knows your plans and location.

Arthropods - insects & spiders


Ants (insect)

One of many animals in the school lawn is the ant.

Where can you find a colony of ants on the school lawn?

Ant Colony Selection and Observation:

Select an ant colony to watch.

Briefly describe the type of ant in your colony.

Find out as much as you can about the ant group you are watching.

Questions you might want to investigate:

  1. Do ants from your colony follow routes from their home to other places? (To help you follow an ant you may want to place a tiny bit of chalk or flour on the back of the ant to see where it goes).
  2. Do ants have specific routes? if so, where do they lead?
  3. Does your colony seem to mix with ants of other colonies?
  4. Does the ant you are watching come out of one ant hole opening and enter others?
  5. How many openings in the ground do you think lead to your colony?
  6. Do you see ants with missing parts? (legs, antennae). If so, how do you think they may have lost the parts?
  7. What do the ants in your colony eat?

Select some questions and describe how you discovered an answer.







Ant food preference experiment

Possible procedure:

Place different types of food cheese, bread, sugar, chocolate, insect, meat, & other) small pieces (2 mm X 2 mm X 5 mm) near a colony.

Test substances & results:

A) Cheese (type)

Time it took for ants to locate the food:

Action of the ants:

B) Bread (type)

Time it took for ants to locate the food:

Action of the ants:

C) 40-50 grains of sugar or 1/4 sugar lump

Time it took for ants to locate the food:

Action of the ants:

D) Chocolate (Without nuts)

Time it took for ants to locate the food:

Action of the ants:

E) Dead insect (type)

Time it took for ants to locate the food:

Action of the ants:

F) Meat (ground)

Time it took for ants to locate the food:

Action of the ants:

Try some of your own:

G) ____________________ Time:

Action of the ants:

H) ____________________ Time:

Action of the ants:

What do you think is the favorite food of the ants in your colony?


Do the ants seem to pass on information about this food to others?



Ants in the Rain

Do ants have problems in bad weather?

Produce a rain storm over an ant hill by the use of a watering can.

Pour the water from the can over the ant hole opening to be equal to about 1/2 inch of rain which falls in some storms.

What is the reaction of the ants?

What happens to the ant hill?

How long does it take the ants to get over the effects of the rain storm?

Describe the shape of the opening of the colony.

Does it protect against flooding?


Do ants build their colonies where there are permanent run off channels in the lawn or playground areas?

Life History of Ants:

1. Select an ant colony (large and active) in an area of the school grounds where it is not likely to be disturbed.

Place a flat stone or slate over the colony. Leave the stone in place for a week or more.

Be ready to make your observations quickly when you raise the stone. You may want to store some of the findings in glass containers for further study.

When you remove the rock what do you see?

How do you explain this?

2. Select one or two ant hills and with a shovel or trowel, open them with care.

How far down does the colony go?

Can you find breeding chambers?

Do you find ants of various kinds? (This may depend on the time of year. Winged males are seen only for a very short time. You may be lucky enough to catch a queen ant. If you do, you could try to establish an artificial colony in a large jar.

What would you need to set up the colony?


How would the ants get water?


3. Look around the school lawn and see how many type of ant colonies you can find.

How do the ants vary in color and in size?


On a wall or on the lawn you will often see a giant black ant. These ants live in small colonies in wood and are called carpenter ants. Follow a carpenter ant to its home which may be a wooden gutter or a dead tree.

Under rocks or in dead wood you may find a colony of white ants which are not ants at all but termites. The termite eats wood and is a problem in homes where it often causes extensive damage to the wood.

Are there termite in your area?

Look in the Yellow Pages of your phone book and see if the exterminators advertise for termite control.

Where might you look for termites in your home?

4. Select several ants from a different colony which are 50-100 feet away but the same size and color as your colony. Place several foreign ants in a container and liberate them at the opening of your colony.

What happens?

Select several ants from a colony 50-100 feet away which are different in size or color or both. Place these foreign ants at the opening of your colony.

What happens?

What other kinds of insect can you find in your area of study?

____________________________ (insect)

What kind of observations can you make?








Clickable bug guide with identification, images, & information for insects, spiders & their kin in the United States & Canada


Visit the school grounds on a day when there is a mist or light dew.

How many spider webs do you find?

What types of webs do you find?

Draw or sketch one below:




How do spiders benefit man?


Catch insects such as flies and throw them into the web.

When an insect is caught in the web, what does the spider do?


Your teacher may help you set up a home for a spider in a two liter bottle.

Make sure it is clean and dry. Place a stick with several small branches (no leaves) in the jar and add a spider. Wait for the spider to weave a web and then add several small insects such as grasshopper, fly, or moth. You will be able to watch your pet in the classroom.

With the aid of a spider identification book try to find out the kind of spider you have.

What does your spider like to eat?


What does your spider do with extra food?


How do spiders seem to eat?


How can spiders walk on webs while insects get caught in the web strands?


If you keep you spider for some period of time is there any evidence that it is growing larger?


If you put a smaller spider in with your larger one, what happens?


How do spiders survive the winter?


After you have observed the spider let your pet go in its natural habitat so that it can go on catching insects.



Mammals on the Lawn:

Animals with backbones and hair are called mammals. You will notice various signs of these animals such as tufts of fur, animal droppings or footprints on the lawn. Some mammals come out only at night.

What evidence do you have of their presence?


Make a list of the mammals on the lawn or around the school, the evidence you noticed and the effect of this animal on the ecology of the areas:


Mammal Evidence(s) Affect on the lawn or other organisms in the lawn






















Birds on and over the Lawn:

Good primary birding source: Feathers for Lunch

Birds have feathers which distinguish them from mammals. Make a list of birds you see.

Can you learn to identify birds by

  • their shape? (body, head, wings, tail , feet, ...)
  • their call?

List the birds you saw or know, attach a picture, and note what each eats, and their adaptations.

Bird Image Eats Characteristics & adaptations & how they may affect the bird's behavior




























The Earthworm

Find a live earthworm in its normal environment.

What is the proper environment for an earthworm?


Where did you go to look for earthworms?


Why were worms found there?


On the lawn of the school look between the grass plants. Do you see any evidence that worms are in the lawn?

What is it?


What do earthworms eat?


When it rains heavily we often find worms on the ground or on the sidewalks. Why are they found above the ground?


What animals eat earthworms?


What animals use earthworms in other ways?


If you have earthworms in your lawn ,are they beneficial (helpful) or harmful?

How do they harm or help the lawn?


What happens to worms when they are cut in half? It will not regrow two earthworms. Depending on how it is cut, it may regrow a tail. See earthworms


Observation of a Live Worm

Collect an earthworm.

Place it in a pan provided on a piece of paper moistened with water. (You may gently remove the soil from the worm to see it more clearly).

Which is the front end of the worm?


Can the earthworm go backwards?


Touch the underside of the worm.

What do you feel?


What is the purpose of these little bristles (setae)?


How does the worm move?


The body of the worm has rings all along the body which are called segments.

How many segments does you worm have?

Do worms stay quiet while you count their segments?

How could you slow them down? (Ask your teacher).

Do the worms of other students all have the same number of segments?

Do you think you could tell the age of the worm by the number of segments it has?

Do humans have segmentation?

If humans have segmentation, where do the show it?

What other animals have segmentation besides the earthworm?

Along the upper surface of the worm you will see a dark line which is a blood vessel. In young or small worms you can see the blood moving in the vessel.

Animals react to various objects in their environment. How does your earthworm respond to the following things?


Stimulus Response ?

Pointed object (before touching the earth worm with the pointed object, practice slowly touching the back of your hand with the point.)

Touch anterior end


Touch posterior end


Touch on sides





LED type light (anterior end)


LED type light (posterior end)





Tap side of container with earth worm inside

Strike a tuning fork and place the bottom of it on the table beside the container with the earthworm inside.

Vibration of wood pounded on the table the container rest on.



Different substances

Response to sugar (with a tweezer, slowly move a crystal toward it, if you touch it, rinse it off immediately)

Response to salt (with a tweezer, slowly move a crystal toward it, if you touch it, rinse it off immediately)

Vinegar (with an eye dropper, slowly move a drop toward it, if you touch it, rinse it off immediately)




Hot and cold

Cold - slowly move an ice cube toward it

Heat - slowly move a warm metal instrument toward it







Fungi are every where on Earth.

Fungi get their energy by dissolving their food (plant, bacteria, animal, or other fungus matter) outside their body and absorb nutrients with threadlike hyphae. They do not use photosynthesis.

See fungi facts

Create a page for each fungus you find, and use the following ideas to record information about your find!

Fungi hunt & collection ideas

If you collect wild mushrooms be sure do so with supervision of an experienced collector.

Information to include:

  • Date you found them
  • Location you found them
  • Were they on the ground or up off the ground? If so how high off the ground?
  • What side of the object on which they are growing (north, south, east, or west).
  • Was it alone or in clumps?
  • What is nearby? other mushrooms or other fungi, moss, lichens, … around it.
  • Are there insects, spiders, or other animals in the areas?
  • Trees?
  • Kinds of trees?

Take a picture and draw a diagram of it or them and write description that can include:

  • How big it is, its shape, color, texture, smell,
  • Its parts. Cap & stem.
  • Their sizes?
  • Color?
  • Texture?
  • Hollow?
  • Does it have a sheath or ring?
  • Is it attached to a stem? Or taper into the stem?
  • Have gills or pores?
  • Does it change color if lightly scratched?
  • Does it have a liquid inside?
  • Does the color change?
  • Is the stem hollow or solid?
  • Turn the mushroom to see under its cap.
  • Find the gills and remove the tissue that protects them and look inside.
  • What do you see?
  • Cut the mushroom down the middle from the top to the bottom to make two mushroom halves.
  • Twist the stem apart. Can you find the hyphae?
  • Look at them with the hand lens.

Record your information on a page for each fungus.


Will grass compost in a pile?


  • Lab book or journal
  • Used chopsticks or skewers
  • Permanent marker
  • Masking tape
  • Thermometer
  • Ruler
  • Place to pile grass


  1. Consider and decide what idea about grass clippings and fungi you want to explore. For example:
    • One pile of grass, or multiple piles in different locations, or multiple piles of different depths of grass.
    • One pile that varies in depth to say three inches.
  2. Find a permissible place to pile grass clippings
  3. Mark the spot with wood skewers and use masking tape to make and attach a flag label to with the date and location.
  4. Record that information in your lab book along with the amount of grass stacked in the areas.
  5. The Shape, Area, Depth
  6. Measure the temperature on the surface, different depths, and at bottom of the pile.
  7. Record what it looks like at each point.
  8. Check the clippings a couple of times a week. Note
  9. Did it rain?
  10. What was the high and low daily temperature
  11. What is happening to the grass on the surface.
  12. What’s happening to the lawn under the grass?
  13. What do you see? thin strands of fungi? Slimy grass …
  14. Other ideas to explore. What happens if you mix dead leaves with half the grass?
  15. What happens if the grass is dry before piling it up?



Lichen are fungi and green algae or cyanobacteria that cooperate (symbiosis).

The fungi provide a habitat to protect the algae or cyanobacteria from heat, cold, and other environmental factors and the algae or cyanobacteria provide food for the fungi through photosynthesis.

Lichen can be found most everywhere. On trees, rocks, old buildings, and other structures. When you find some, spray it with some water and its colors will brighten. They are very hardy and capable of living in extreme conditions. Their hypea can penetrate rock and other substances allowing them to be the first organisms to grow almost anywhere.

See lichen facts


Suggestion for other small animals

Animals in the soil

Berlese funnel

Set up a Berlese funnel with soil or leaf mold in the funnel. With a goose neck lamp dry out the soil or leaf mold so that the animals drop into the water below. Identify the animals you see with the aid of a magnifying glass or electronic microscope if it is available.

Small worms with segments are annelids; small worms which wiggle from side to side are nematode worms; any animal with six legs is an insect or insect larvae; animals with eight legs are spiders or mites.

How many of these animals do you find?

Animal Observed Number Seen
Annelid worms  
Nematode worms  
Insects or larvae  
Spiders or mites  


For each animal observed record the Location found and where in the soil (depth), the type of soil, moisture (wet, dry) and other factors which might influence its population.

_________________ (animal)



Type of soil




Moisture (wet, dry)


Other factors





Lawn Animals in Winter

After rain or a light wet snow is on the ground you might observe the tracks made in it by animals.

What types of animals made the footprints?

Draw the footprint and try to identify the bird or mammal which made the track.

Footprint Animal?