SEASON FOR ECOLOGY SCAVENGER HUNTS IS HERE
by Whit Gibbons
June 11, 2006
Find one beetle, and a green leaf with points on the edges. Find a bird
with red on its head, and an animal with more than six legs. Find a plant
or animal that has a smell, good or bad. This is not a recipe for the
bubbling cauldron in Macbeth. It is a recipe, of sorts, though not for
witches. It's a formula for making children more aware of their environment
by spending more time outdoors. I call it an ecology scavenger hunt.
out and long summer days beckoning, children have time on their hands.
Marathon video games and endless television are not a good answer to "what
can I do?" Such activities seem to dominate the lives and minds of
many of today's youngsters, and parents. In fact, do young people even
know what a scavenger hunt is? Maybe, but have they ever been on one?
Or are games becoming something children only play on a computer?
scavenger hunt is a good idea, if for no other reason than that too many
children spend too much time indoors. Television and computers make it
easy to do. And indeed these are important technological advances. In
fact, a person can learn a lot from TV and videos. But the living world
is outside. And children should be encouraged to spend as much time there
as they can. The idea of the scavenger hunt is to locate each item on
the list. This means spending time in the front or back yard, the park,
or the nearest woods. An additional requirement of the hunt is to read
something about the plant or animal, which may entail a trip to the library
or the bookstore. And then, even though this is beginning to sound like
school is not really out, write a meaningful statement about the item
on the list. Or the children might write out a question to ask their science
teacher when they go back to school.
be able to find a beetle and something written about this ubiquitous group
of insects. What kind of beetle is it? More species of beetles live on
earth than any other major group of animals, so it's easy to find something
to read about beetles. What kind of tree or shrub would a pointy-edged
leaf come from? A holly tree should be easy to find or a shrub with stickery
leaves. They might save a question for their teacher: Why do holly leaves
As far as
the bird goes (which might at first glance seem to be the hardest item
on the list) one might have to consult a book to find out which birds
would qualify. But maybe you have a red-headed woodpecker in the neighborhood.
Lots of other woodpeckers have red on their heads, but it's hard to see.
So do ruby-crowned kinglets and turkey vultures. Learn to identify them
from a bird field guide. (If you think about this challenge, you'll realize
that "red on its head" does not exclude being red all over.
Almost everyone can identify a cardinal.)
more than six legs? Millipedes, centipedes (which you should NOT pick
up because of their venomous bite), and spiders, to name a few. All are
present in the woods, and probably even in the back yard, under rocks
or logs or tree bark. Finding a plant that smells good just means picking
the right flower. Finding something malodorous, like a skunk or stinkbug,
might be a little more difficult, but perhaps more fun. (Finding doesn't
mean catching. If you see a skunk, just check it off the list and move
the scavenger hunt successfully, one has to do three things--find, read,
and write--for five different living things. The reading and writing can
be done on days it's too hot or too wet to enjoy being outside. The finding
can be at other times.
for an ecology scavenger hunt is only an example. Make up your own list.
It will help keep children, and maybe a few adults, outdoors--a place
everyone ought to become more familiar with.
you have an environmental question or comment, email