Snails (Phylum Mollusca, Class Gastropoda) are among the smallest animals at River Legacy. They are often not noticed and, therefore, unappreciated. However, they play a very important role in the environment as decomposers. They feed on dead plants, mushrooms, trees and animals. Some even feed on empty shells from other snails, tree sap and animal feces. While that may sound gross, it is very important that those things are consumed so that those wastes do not accumulate and start damaging the ecosystem.
Snails also help out with the calcium cycle, since they retain calcium in their shells. Once they are eaten by many animals (opossums, beetles, millipedes, etc…), that calcium passes to those predators and so on, onto the next ladders of the food chain.
There are roughly 60,000 species of snails in the world. This number includes slugs as well as marine snails. They are very slimy, which allows them to stay moist. The need to retain moisture makes them a big fan of water and rain, especially.
So far this Spring, we have had alternating periods of rain and dry, hot weather. Next time it rains and the forest becomes very moist, look for snails walking around on different surfaces. A popular place to look for snails at the Science Center is the pedestrian bridge at our western entrance, coming from Rose-Brown-May Parkway. Another place where snails are frequently seen after a rain is the wall on the ramp to our western entrance, just adjacent to Mike’s Garden. If not, any boulder or log in the forest will probably have some. In addition, we encourage you to sign up your children for classes this upcoming summer (classes like Slime Sleuths, Animal Sense-Abilities, PSI: Pond Scene Investigations, among others). Snails will be an important topic in those classes and students may even get the opportunity to touch and hold snails. For more information on how to sign up, you can visit our website at www.riverlegacy.org/summer-classes.
Most plants that exist in the world today belong to the seed-producing plants, either flowering plants or cone-bearing plants. However, did you know that there is a diverse group of plants that produce a different reproductive structure called the spore? These are the ferns. Consisting of about 11,000 species worldwide, this group is very ancient. Fossil evidence suggests that this group has been around since the late Devonian period (roughly 350 million years ago!). Here at River Legacy, some ferns find a perfect home.
Let’s now go back to the characteristic that sets these plants apart from the more common plants: spores. A spore is basically just a different way of plant reproduction. In essence, they function like seeds but they form in a separate manner. Rather than being associated with a fruit or a cone, these form on the underside of fern leaves or leaflets. They are significantly smaller than seeds and much more fragile. They are found in clusters called sporangia, which in turn form structures called sori that are seen underneath the leaves of a fern. When spores are released, they give rise to an intermediate plant stage called a gametophyte before becoming an adult fern.
One of the native ferns at River Legacy is the bluntlobe cliff fern (Woodsia obtusa). This fern grows in very moist habitats and is usually found on rocky surfaces, ledges, or slopes very close to a stream or another body of water. As you walk the trails at River Legacy Living Science Center, specifically the ones close to Snider Creek, see if you can spot this fern!
Earth Day is an annual celebration that occurs worldwide on April 22nd. Starting in 1970, the purpose of this day is to celebrate our planet and all of the organisms with which we share it and to raise awareness about the importance of environmental conservation. Earth is a really unique but fragile planet. To date, it is the only planet where life can be found and that makes it all the more important to take care of it.
Here at River Legacy, we are celebrating Earth Day a little early. Our annual Earth Day festival is going to be this Saturday, April 14th from 10 A.M. to 2 P.M. We invite you to come and celebrate with us. There will be crafts, games, animal explorations, nature walks, and many more fun activities. It is free admission and all ages are welcome!
On Earth Day itself, be sure to visit the trails at River Legacy Park and appreciate the plants and animals that make River Legacy Park their home. River Legacy Living Science Center will not be open that day but the park will be. To get acquainted with the wonderful wildlife you might expect to find as you explore, we encourage you to read previous posts in this blog!
Mushrooms are really interesting organisms. They are neither plant nor animal but rather belong to an entirely different kingdom of life called fungi, which actually also includes pathogens (such as athlete’s foot), molds, and yeasts. Despite being very distinct, they do share characteristics with both animals and plants. They are sessile like plants but do not produce their own food, something they have in common with animals.
The mushrooms themselves are really only the spore-producing (fruiting) body of the organism. Lurking beneath the mushroom is a network of filaments that compose most of the fungus. They are very important decomposers and can also be a great food source for a lot of animals. Spring is a really good time to find mushrooms because they start appearing everywhere once there is enough water around. Here at River Legacy, there are many species to be found, from oyster mushrooms to turkey tail mushrooms, jack-o-lanterns, puffballs, shelf mushrooms, carbon ball mushrooms, and many more. As you can see, mushrooms are a very diverse group and some can be quite beautiful. We invite you to come out to the trails at River Legacy this spring and look for mushrooms growing in the forest!
Spring time is here! Spring officially started on March 20. This is the time when the landscape will be changing slowly but surely. Expect to see more flowers blooming, deciduous trees regrowing their leaves, and more green overall. Reptiles and amphibians will start to come out more and more. This will likely mean an increase in the number of turtles found walking on the forest floor or on logs, in ponds, creeks, and other bodies of water as well as an increase in lizards found on trees, logs, and fences. This can also mean more snake sightings and encounters. Please refer to earlier posts in this blog for what to do if you see a snake. Different birds will also start to appear across River Legacy as spring migration is beginning to take shape.
The reason for all these changes mainly have to do with temperature differences and water and food availability. Spring time brings about much warmer temperatures. This indicates to certain animals that their brumation (for certain cold-blooded animals) and hibernation (for certain mammals) times are over. Warmer temperatures also awake certain plants from their dormancy. Normally, spring also brings more rain, sometimes in the form of storms. Water helps with seed germination, causing more plants to start appearing. More plants mean more food for herbivores, which means more food for omnivores and carnivores as well.
Spring is a perfect time to enjoy and learn about nature with us at River Legacy Living Science Center. We invite you to all of our spring events coming up:
Our FREE Earth Day festival is Saturday, April 14 from 10 am to 2 pm . This is a family festival, open to the public, where you can learn much about Earth Day and why conservation is important while enjoying nature walks, crafts, activities and hands-on demonstrations.
Nature Walks are held on the second Saturday of every month and are great opportunities to explore the seasonal plant and animal changes in the park. Our next Nature Walk will be Saturday, May 12th. Space is limited, so please call 817.860.6752 to reserve your spot.
We are partnering with the Arlington Water Utilities Department to host a rain barrel making workshop from 6 to 8 pm, May 8 at River Legacy Living Science Center. This program covers the basics and benefits of rainwater harvesting and the effects stormwater has on the environment. Participants will learn how to collect and utilize rainwater at home and have the opportunity to construct their very own 55 gallon rain barrel. Cost is $50. Register online here.