- Identify just one thing in your backyard -- maybe a bird or a garden flower or an insect
-- and then use a search engine
to find out all you can about it. You'll just be amazed at what you can learn!
- Subscribe to the weekly naturalist newsletter
issued by this site's producer, Naturalist Jim Conrad.
- Check out Naturalist Jim's Naturalist Newsletter Page on Facebook.
- Check out the US Environmental Protection Agency's page on "Games, Quizzes and Other
- Find a bean, maybe a dried bean in your kitchen, and notice its hilum.
Separate its two faces, and inside the bean identify the plumule, radicle and
hypocotyl. Our Seeds Page can help you.
- Watch the world population grow at HowMany.Org,
and read how human overpopulation is causing so many problems, and what can be done about
- In local gardens, hedges, weedy places and woods, look for insect pupae,
as described on our Insect Pupae Page. Once you find one,
mark it with a ribbon or other object, then visit it each day to watch for when the adult
- One place on the Web to help you get the scientific name of plants you identify
is the B & T
World Seeds site. Try it out.
- Download some free nature books from Project Gutenberg. Look for writings by John Muir,
Henry David Thoreau, Charles Darwin and Jack London.
- Print out the drawing of our "Standard Blossom" on our Remember the Standard Blossom Page, then wander around looking
at miscellaneous flowers seeing how they differ from the drawing.
- If you have a microscope, look at pollen grains of different flowers
and notice how different they are from one another in terms of size and shape.
- Most insects are either "chewers" or "suckers." Wander around
looking at miscellaneous insects, deciding which are chewers and which are suckers.
We have more information on our Insect Mouthparts Page.
- Calculate your Ecological Footprint at the MyFootprint.org
- Learn to identify your local trees just by looking at their trunks. Our
Tree Bark Page can help you organize your thoughts about
- Learn the few most common Butterfly families, as listed on our Butterflies Page, so that when you meet up with an unknown
butterfly you can at least say, "Well, it's in the #### family... " The Butterflies
of North America Page can help you identify butterflies, as well as the National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Butterflies
- Understand your local weather by looking at clouds, seeing weather
maps, etc. The About.com Weather Page
can help you.
- If you had to personally kill the animals providing the flesh you eat each day, would
you do it? Is it moral for you to simply pay others to kill the animals you eat?
Think about these questions. You might be interested in the Vegetarianism in a Nutshell site.
- From a local pond or ditch, take a jar of water and set it in a window
where it gets some sunlight. Over the weeks watch what happens to it...
- On fallen leaves, look for a leaf-spot fungus such as the one shown on
the leaf at our Imperfect Fungi Page.
- On a tree twig where the leaf has recently fallen, locate the leafscar, bud and
bundle scars, as described on our Woody Twigs Page.
- Go for Naturalist Jim's Bug-Eaten Leaf Awards.
- During the fall, some bird species may be passing through your area that during the
summer and winter are not present. See if you can identify these transitory
migrant birds. You'll need to examine distribution maps for the birds you
identify, using bird-identification books such
as those available at Amazon.com.
- Go looking for insect eggs and notice their incredible variety of
sizes, shapes, colors and designs. Check out our Insect Eggs Page.
- Dig up an Earthworm and with your hands moist so you don't hurt it, see
if you can identify the worm's clitellum, excretory pores, chaetae, male pore,
female pore and mouth. We have a drawing identifying
- If you have a moist, junky basement, look for Daddy-long-legs, pictured
and described on our Harvestman Page.
- Find a weed and try to identify it by using Iowa State's Weed-Identification
- If you have a moist or wet place outside, look for a snail or slug. On
either of them, locate the two tentacles atop the head, and the two stalked eyes below the
tentacles.Our Snails & Slugs Page explains things.
- If your neighborhood has outcropping sedimentary rocks, or if there is rounded streambed
gravel available, look for fossils. Visit our Fossil
- If you have a scanner, read over our Tips on Using the Scanner
for Documenting Plants & Animals Page, then start identifying and scanning
all the insects in your neighborhood. Keep your scannings organized so you can
browse them the way you would a good insect collection. Check out our Insect Profiles Pages to see how we've organized our scannings
- In moist, shaded, undisturbed places, look for mosses in their
spore-producing condition. Using the diagram on our Mosses Page,
identify a moss's calyptra, capsule, stalk, leaves and rhizoids.
- Wander around looking at how the blossoms of different plants are arranged.
Classify each arrangement type according to whether it is a spike, raceme, corymb,
panicle, umbel, cyme, scorpioid cyme, or something else. Our Blossom Arrangement Page can help.
- List all the ecological niches you can identify in your backyard. Our Backyard Niches Page can get you started.
- Once you've made the above list, write down each species you can identify using
each niche, and describe what the organisms are doing there.
- Find an acorn -- an oak-tree's fruit. If you're not sure sure what to
look for, see the Water Oak acorn in the "nut" section of our Simple Fruits Page.
- Familiarize yourself with the ten most conspicuous insect orders by
finding members of each of them. Our Insect Orders Page can
- Find a pine cone and look for its seeds. Our Conifer
Page shows a typical pine cone with some seeds next to it.
- Find a composite flower (described on our Composite
Flowers Page) and, if it has these parts, identify its ray flowers, its disk
flowers, the receptacle, and the achenes.
- Compost fallen leaves in plastic garbage bags as described in the
yellow box on our Composting Page.
- Dig into the leaf litter in a forested park or beneath a hedge to find white
strands of fungal hyphae, as described on our Hyphae
- Look very closely at any sand or streambed gravel you can find. Try to see tiny
crystals, as described on our Minerals Page.
Especially if you have a magnifying glass you should at least see glass-like quartz
- Notice that most but not all fallen leaves display "bilateral
symmetry" as described mideway down one of our
- Look for a wild-growing fern. In the suburbs sometimes they may grow in
the shade beneath shrubbery on the north sides of house. They like moisture so many
backyards may not have any. If that's the case, maybe you can find one at a local park. If
you find one, look for spore-producing sori, or fruit dots, as described on our Fern Page.
- Order a geology map for your state at the USGS State Map Page, and start learning your local geology, and why
the landscape looks the way it does.
- Find a fruit of any kind and decide what kind it is. Our Fruit Page can help you decide whether it's a simple, aggregate
or multiple fruit, and if it's a simple one (as most fruits are) what kind of simple
- If you have a special interest, such as birds, wildflowers, spiders, or whatever, consider
joining an "e-group" at the Yahoo Groups Page. Just go there, type your subject into the search
box, and if you see a group you like, join it.
- Find a plant with spines or thorns and try to figure out why it has
them. Remember that plants evolved long ago when often large herbivores such as bison,
wild horses and mastodons wandered the land. Of course we have a nice Plant Spines Page.
- Look for animal tracks in mud. You should be able to identify at least
dog tracks, as drawn on our Mammal Page. You may want to
review the book Field Guide to Mammal Tracking in North America available at
- Look for simple and compound eyes on an insect, as described in the eye
section of our Insect Design Page.
- On tree twigs, look for lenticels (tiny "windows" in twigs that let
in air) as described on our Woody Twigs Page.
- Read Naturalist Jim Conrad's short online book Walks With Red Dog, about being with a dog in the
- On various trees, shrubs and herbs see if you can always figure out exactly
where the leaves are. Our How Can You Decide Whether
Something is a Leaf or Not? Page can help you here, especially with the question of
whether something is a leaf or a leaflet.
- Probably you've watched Robins catching earthworms in your lawn. Lie on
the lawn and see if you catch as many as the Robins do. If you have chiggers or redbugs in
your area you might want to spread a plastic sheet below you.
- Find a caterpillar and notice its six black jointed legs immediately
behind the head, its stubby, mid-body legs called prolegs and its end
ones called anal prolegs. Our Caterpillars
& Other Insect Larvae Page shows these.
- Collect animals sounds on your computer's hard disk. Go to the Google Search Engine and type in keywords such as
"bullfrog audio" or "cricket audio." When your audio player is
finished playing the sound, click on File/ Save As.., then place the file in a folder or
subdirectory where you can find it later.
- Find a pore mushroom as described on our Pore Mushrooms Page.
- Become an official frogwatcher. For details go to Frogwatch USA
- If you have tomato plants in your garden, find a tomato flower and
notice how its anthers are grown together as shown on our Tomato-flower
Page. Mark a flower and day after day watch how the ovary expands, the stamens and
corolla shrivel and fall off, and finally the ovary becomes a tomato.
- If you have a scanner, read over our Tips on Using the Scanner
for Documenting Plants & Animals Page, then start identifying and scanning
your neighborhood's trees -- their leaves, flowers and fruits. Keep your
scannings organized so you can browse them the way you would a good herbarium collection.
- At night, find a streetlight or backyard light and watch for insects who flutter
into it. These insects are trying to navigate by the light as if it were a star.
However, as they fly, trying to keep the light at a certain angle as must be done to fly
in a straight line, they begin passing by the light. They turn to compensate, then have to
turn again, and before long they are circling the light and crashing into it...
- When you go onto the Internet for the first time each day, check out NASA's Astronomy Picture of the
Day. This will help you keep things here on Earth in perspective.
- List all the trees in your neighborhood. Our page on backyard trees can help. You may also want to look at our pages on
twigs and tree bark. Tree
identification books can be reviewed here.
- Find a butterfly and try to identify it at the Butterflies of North America
site. Our page on butterflies can give you lots of hints
about butterfly identification.
- Put out a birdbath for birds and other critters. It doesn't have to be
a real birdbath, but could be something like a turned-upside garbage can lid. The water
should be no deeper than an inch. Keep a list of the species who visit.
- Find the star-shaped pith in an oak twig, as shown on our Woody Twig Page.
- Start a rock collection. Our rock section
can get you oriented..
- In the night sky, learn these constellations: The Big Dipper (Ursa
Major), The Little Dipper (Ursa Minor), Leo the Lion, Bo÷tes the Herdsman, Hercules,
Corona Borealis, and Draco the Dragon. One book to help you is The Sky Observer's Guide: A Handbook for Amateur Astronomers
- If you live in eastern or central North America, look for a Bowl and Doily
Spider web -- one of the most common webs seen in this part of the world. One is
shown on our spider-silk page -- fourth from the top.
- At night and with a flashlight, sneak up on a stridulating cricket and
watch it sing.
- Find a lichen, as described on our Lichen Page,
and figure out whether it is crustose, foliose or fruticose.
- If you have a camera, about 5 feet from a birdbath, put a box or some other structure
large enough for you to hide in. After the birds become accustomed to this "wildlife
observation blind" (maybe a couple of days), go inside, then take a close
look at what visits the birdbath. Birds can count up to "one," so you may need a
friend to go with you to the box, you get inside the box, then your friend leaves. The
birds will see "one" person go to the birdbath, and "one" return, so
then they'll know the coast is clear for them!
- In your basement or some other damp, slightly junky place, look for
"thousand leggers." Are they centipedes, millipedes or maybe sowbugs?
Our Centipedes, Millipedes & Pill Bugs Page can help you
- Look for squirrels around your house or in the local park. What kind of
squirrels are they? Our Squirrel Page may be able to help.
- In a local woods, look for a coral fungus such as the one on our Corul Fungi Page.
- Find a feather and identify these parts of it: shaft, vane, barbs,
and barbules. Our Feather Page can help.
- Find out where your house's water comes from. Does your town have its
own well, or take water from a reservoir or river? If your water comes from a reservoir or
river, does the water seem clean to you, and free of chemical pollutants? Are you content
with your water situation? If not, what are you going to do about it?
- While eating an apple, locate the seeds and remants of the flower's calyx and
stamens, as shown halfway down our Fruity Orientation
- Find out the geological age of the land on which you live. You may need
to consult a geology map of the kind described on our Geological
- Look for fungi. When you find a fungus, figure out what kind it is. Our
Fungus Section can help.
- List all the butterflies in your neighborhood. Our Butterfly Page can get you started. You can review the National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Butterflies
available at Amazon.com
- Find a grass flower and, referring to our Grass
Flower Page, identify a spikelet, the glumes, and a floret. You may
need to use a pin to separate the various parts, and a magnifying glass.
- Participate in an important research project by making phenological observations
-- notes about seasonal things, such as when plants flower and fruit, birds nest, frogs
croak, etc., at the USA National Phenology Network
- Start a Nature Study Notebook, either on paper or on your computer. The
"Nature Study Notebook" section on our Tools Page
offers some pointers for getting started.
- Get involved with local efforts to save the environment and meet others
who enjoy learning about nature. Check out our Get Involved
Section, which gives links to environmental groups on the Web.
- Look for a gilled mushroom and see if it has the following parts: cap,
stalk, gills, ring, and cup. Our Mushroom Page
- Learn to identify Poison Ivy. One way to do this is to go to the Google
Images Page, type "Poison Ivy" into the search box, then
look at the various thumbnail pictures showing Poison Ivy.
- List all the birds in your neighborhood. The "how to
birdwatch" part of our bird section can get you
- Once you have your birdlist, note next to each species' name what kind of beak
it has. Various beak types are described on our Bird
- And once you have some birds listed, listen to their songs at the US
Government Patuxent birdsong
- Find a gilled mushroom and key it out at Mycokey.com's KEY to fungus GENERA
- When you eat fried chicken, pay attention to the bones and realize what
part of the chicken's body you are eating. You might want to compare your chicken bones
with those of the pigeon at our Bird Bones & Muscles Page.
- Among fall's fallen leaves, some are leaves but others are actually leaflets.
Figure out which is which. We have a special page on How Can You
Decide Whether Something is a Leaf or Not?
- After learning to identify Poison Ivy, crush and smell several leaves of herbs,
shrubs and trees. Do some odors strike you as chemicals the plant is using to
keep insects and other animals from eating it? If this interests you, look at our Plant Chemicals used in Defense Page.
- On trees, shrubs and weeds, look for galls as described on our Gall Page. Maybe the Gallery of
Common Galls Page can help, too.
- Browse some online, nature- and science-oriented technical journals. We
have a list of some at the bottom of our Scientific Journals
- Pull up a clover plant in a yard that isn't too sterile because of chemicals, and
look for the nitrogen-fixing nodules on the roots. Our "Roots with
Nodules" section at the bottom of our Root Types Page
should get you started.
- In a garden flower, figure out the different parts. Locate the stamens
(pollen-producing male part, consisting of filament and anther), pistil (female
part that will mature into a fruit, consisting of stigma, style and ovary), corolla
and calyx. Our Standard Blossom Page will help you.
- Check out Frequently
Asked Questions about Global Warming provided by the Union of
- Search for a member of the Mint Family, as described on our Mint-flowers Page. Several weeds and garden flowers and herbs
are mints. When you find a flowering mint plant, notice its square stem, opposite
leaves, and its fruits divided into four "nutlets." Often mints smell
- When you identify a bird, see where it nests during the summer by clicking
- Catch up on the latest environmental news at the EarthJustice site.
- Put a flowering plant next to your computer and on the Web go to the World Wide Flowering Plant
Family Page, and see if you can figure out what plant familiy your plant belongs to.
If you need help figuring out the parts of the plant, go to the Flowering Plants Section
of our Backyard Plants Page.