Monday, December 20, 2010

Smart Stuff with Twig Walkingstick: Where do deer sleep during winter?

 Twig Walkingstick lives in and around the Wooster campus of the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. His alter ego is Kurt Knebusch, one of our super-talented writers and editors on campus. Each month, look for Twig to answer a reader questions and some additional interesting facts below. After Twig's post, we will be providing some ideas and suggestions on how to incorporate the info in Twig's column into fun science learning for your students and children.

Q. Dear Twig: Where do deer sleep during winter?

A. In two kinds of places. The choice depends on whether it's daytime or nighttime. (I assume here a cold, snowy winter where the deer is. Are.)

At night, deer tend to sleep near coniferous ("kuh-NIFF-er-us") trees. (Coniferous trees you know might include pines, firs, spruces and hemlocks.) A usual spot is next to a trunk under thick, low, sheltering branches. The branches serve as a roof and a blanket. They keep out the wind, slow down how fast heat gets lost and help the deer save energy. A key for a deer to survive winter is to save energy.

During the day, deer sleep more in the open, away from deep, dark woods, a lot of times on a fill facing south or west. Why: To be in the sun. The sun's heat makes them warm. Or at least not as cold.

The technical term for both places is "bed sites." Deermay "bed" —lie down, sleep, or just hunker down and relax—at times throughout the day or night.

Long winter's nappilu,

P.S. Ohio's native deer is the white-tailed deer. Out west look for mule deer. Also, mules.

Notes from Twig: 
  • Mules, but not mule deer, like in Ohio too of course. And in many other places, such as "Hee Haw."
  • Subspecies of the mule deer (note: not a mule) are the Sitka deer (ditto) and black-tailed deer (ditto ditto). White tailed subspecies are the Coues (said "cooze." "cows" or "coos," depending on who says it) deer and Florida key deer.
  • Sources included "Winter Bed-site Selection by White-tailed Deer in Central Ontario," Journal of Wildlife Management, 1983.
  • Ohio State's experts on deer and wildlife management in general, but not mules, work in the School of Environment and Natural Resources, specifically in the Terrestrial Wildlife Ecology Laboratory.


Using this information for education:
Many students are preparing to celebrate the holiday season and dreaming of what they may find under the Christmas tree. Unlike the Christmas trees inside homes which have presents underneath them, nature's Christmas trees (pines, hemlocks and firs to name a few) are often a present to wildlife in and of themselves. 

Written by Colleen Monroe, A Wish to be a Christmas Tree is a fun holiday read that recounts the tale of a pine tree that has grown too large to ever be picked by a family as a Christmas tree. As he begins to cry, his woodland-creature-friends share how important he is to he provides shelter from the storms with his branches, bedding for deer, and many other important benefits. Still sad, the tree is cheered when the animal s decorate him on their own and make him their own special Christmas tree.

This is a fun book to read during the holiday season, because it teaches the importance of friendship and helping others, but children can also learn about the important ecological functions of trees for wildlife in a fun way. And that includes providing cozy beds for deer in winter. Thanks, Twig!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Dreaming of a white Christmas?

Are you (and your little learners) dreaming of a white Christmas? How about if you take those dreams and turn them into predictions?

Here at OARDC we have an active weather station at our Wooster campus, and at 17 other sites across the Buckeye State. Current and past data for these stations is available free of charge online. So you can certainly check our weather at anytime, but that still leaves the question: will we have a white Christmas this year? Here's a fun way for older elementary to high school students to use historical weather data to create a map and color key to illustrate the likelihood of a white Christmas while learning about contour maps. The following lesson plan is based on the lesson available at
The National Climatic Data Center has calculated the probability of a White Christmas for the entire US (below). This map is based on the full range of data for each site rather than the 1971-2000 normal.

Here's what you'll need:

  • A color temperature map (many newspapers like USA Today publish such a map daily and are even available online)
  • Recording of the song I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas  (optional)
  • White Christmas Weather Data worksheet available free online
  • US outline map available free online
  • Atlas
  • Crayons or colored pencils
Will your students enjoy a white Christmas this year? Let's see what the historical weather data has to say about the likelihood for your part of the country...
  1. Start by showing students a color temperature map. Discuss how the map can be a quick guide to determine the current or high temperature for the day. Point out the color key as a tool to guide interpretation of the map.
  2. Ask students if they have any idea how this map, called a temperature contour map, is created. The color contour map is imply a pictorial representation of weather data. In the case of a contour map that shows the current temperatures around the United States, the data is a long list of temperatures in cities around the country. Students could create their own color contour map by gathering this data, plotting the temperatures in a wide variety of locations on an outline map and "connecting the dots" to approximate the approximate areas in which the temperatures are in the 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, etc.
  3. For practice, you may want to provide students with data from a local paper on temperatures recorded the previous day or the high temperature estimate for the current day. Use the list to plot locations and temperatures. Demonstrate how students can create a color contour map to show those high temperatures. Then have students map the low temperatures of the day from the same source.
  4. Introduce and play the song I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas and pass out the White Christmas Weather Data worksheet. This worksheet includes figures representing the percent likelihood of snow being on the ground Christmas Day in 40 cities around the United States. This worksheet is intended for grades 5 and up. Younger students can focus on a state or region and map data for that smaller area. For example, the Illinois State Climatologist Office provides data for 13 sites across Illinois on the likelihood of snow on Christmas day. You may be able to find similar data for your state or region as well. Stormfax also provides a nice set of data for various states and regions.
  5. Have students plot the data on their map then create a color key to guide them as they color their contour maps. The color key will denote a different color for locations where the percent likelihood of snow on Christmas day is 0-20 percent, 21-40 percent, 41-60 percent, 61-80 percent and 81-100 percent. Be sure students understand that the maps they create are a simple approximation of the likelihood any area will have an inch of snow or more on the ground Christmas day. Geographic location can account for vast differences in snowfall in a small area. For example, their map will show that much of Arizona has little chance of snow cover on Christmas day, but a small area of the state, around the city of Flagstaff ( located in the mountains in the middle of the state) has a 57 percent chance of snow coverage on Christmas day!
  6. Have students share their maps with one another and with the class and discuss how accurately those maps depict the likelihood of snow cover. Check maps for accuracy in plotting city locations, but grant leeway in judging the final contour maps. Some variation needs to be allowed for where the controus might break between the plotted cities. Students should also have the opportunity to express in writing thelessons they learn (math and geography) from the activity.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Let's make trees!

I've been brave enough to commit to working with two Head Start centers this year on a monthly basis, working with their children on science and agricultural literacy. Besides the basics of learning where their food comes from, I want these children to understand the incredible diversity of American agriculture and to be excited about science and all the wonderful things just waiting to be discovered by their young minds.

So far this year, I've shared with them about insects and spiders (just in time for Halloween...and let me tell you, I was impressed with what those preschoolers already knew when I got there!). Then we talked about the life cycle of a pumpkin and read some cool pumpkin books (you can't believe what a great job they are doing of growing their pumpkin seeds!). And in November we learned about the different body parts and adaptations of wild turkeys. I'm telling you, these preschoolers are impressive and already knew what a turkey's caruncle was before I was even walked in the door! So I thought they deserved an extra fun treat as Christmas approaches.

We did our December visit on Christmas trees!

We started out by talking about how Christmas trees are grown on farms, how they benefit the environment by absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing fresh oxygen, how they are a renewable resource, how they are recyclable, and how they preserve green space. The National Christmas Tree Association has some great resources on their site with this information as well as a lot of myths debunked about real Christmas trees. For example, did you know there are more than 4,000 Christmas tree recycling programs in the United State alone?

Then we read A Wish to be a Christmas Tree by Colleen Monroe.
This cute tale tells the story of an old tree on a Christmas tree farm that is sad because he was never chosen by a family to be a Christmas tree. He knows now that he's too large to be chosen by a family to be their Christmas trees, but the animals tell him all about the many benefits he provides to them and while he is asleep, they decorate him and make him their own special Christmas tree.

Afterwards, we made our own little Christmas tree snacks. We started with Cool Whip, which I colored with green food coloring in advance. Each child then got their own sugar ice cream cone and "iced" the cone with the Cool Whip to make a tree. We decorated the trees with M&Ms for ornaments and enjoyed a good snack. This is a fun little treat either in the classroom or at home. So enjoy!
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