If you were to take a patch of earth near your house, how many species would you find living there? This is a great question for pondering, curiosity, and scientific investigation. Consider doing a species tally for a bit of yard, field, woods, or even sidewalk near your school or home. Lots of groups conduct species tallies for different areas, or for particular types of species. Some groups do bird tallies, or fish tallies. A group in the United Kingdom conducts a BioBlitz, with multiple groups racing to see how many species can be identified in a given area in 24 hours. Some areas do overall species tallies like the one suggested here. You might be surprised what you could find.
In fact, Carol Kaesuk Yoon writes that she traveled all over the globe to view exotic creatures, only to spy a never-before-seen moth outside her living room window! Your sightings may not be quite as monumental, but you may find things new to you, and perhaps be surprised by the diversity of species found nearby.
All you really need for your tally is paper and pencil, but it also helps to have a trowel to help locate things under the surface, a camera for documenting your finds, and a net or jar for holding them long enough to photograph. And, of course, you’ll need field guides of various types to identify the species, either from the library, online, or though one of the many field guide apps available for your phone. I didn’t have much luck trying to use online eGuides for identifying insects, but was more successful with birds. Give them a try and see how they work for you.
To get started, decide how big a patch of ground you want to investigate. (Or, if you want to follow Ms. Yoon’s lead, decide to explore your house.) Decide if you are looking for plant life, animal life, or both. Don’t forget to look up and down. There are things living in and on trees and bushes, as well as things living under the ground, beneath stones, and in cracks in the sidewalk. You could investigate more than one patch of ground and see where you find more diversity. How might you investigate an area that includes water (aside from, “carefully!”)? Keep a tally of the things you identify, and drawings or photographs of unidentified species. If you find something surprising, you might want to check out The New York Times’ feature “Live From Your Back Yard” to see if you see anything similar.
This is a great chance to hone your investigative skills and spark curiosity. And besides, it’s fun.
If you are a teacher and would like to expand this idea into a more full-blown lesson plan, see The New York Times’ education blog. Interested in a few more resources? Check these out.
- Be amazed at the number of species in the world by exploring the Catalogue of Life.
- Read about the latest earth-census.
- What percentage of the world’s species are insects? Mammals? Check out this graph and see.
- Explore Science in the Backyard (or the kitchen or the market) with PBS Parents.
- And if it is raining and you can’t go outside, browse animal species near and far with National Geographic Kids.
Have fun exploring! If you find something amazing, we all want to hear about it.