Who Lives Down There?

For Earth Day I taught 300 Borton children and adults how to determine “what lives down there?” Here I am.

My daughter is the noticeably bored kid in blue. The first language of the kid staring at the ground up front is Kurdish. I’m hoping they don’t represent how miserable everyone else was at the only station in full sun.

For three years, I’ve been visiting the bird sanctuary at my children’s school and staring at a variety of ground holes. The first year, I walked around a couple of times watching Anna and betts struggle with irrigation while noticing the subterranean homes of the desert critters. Jesse was in Iraq and so my attention was divided. Mostly I remember the striped shirt I wore on both visits. The second year was focused on pulling buffel grass and looking at ground holes. I don’t remember what I wore. This third year we’ve worked on getting children and families into the bird sanctuary. Since I’d spent three years thinking of Wonderland down those rabbit holes, I was elected to run a station on ground hole identification. I wore a striped skirt.

Here’s your minilesson:
1) Where is the hole located? Is it elevated or level with the ground? Is it out in the open or under a bush or between rocks?
2) How big is the hole? Is it small for insects or ants? Is it medium sized for a rodent of some sort? Is it large enough to accommodate a coyote? Measure the height/width of the entrance for more precise identification. In general you’ll look for holes smaller than 3 inches, between 3 and 8 inches, and greater than 8 inches in diameter.
3) What shape is the hole? Circular holes typically belong to rodents. You’re likely to find lizards in semicircular holes. Ovular holes will house tortoises, for example.

You can take note of other details too like if it has a silky barrier to it (you can expect a spider in that hole) or whether the homeowner is tidy or messy. Sometimes another animal will move into an abandoned hole. I showed the kids all kinds of photos of animals with their holes, including burrowing owls and kangaroo rats.

At this point, I asked the kids to look around the sanctuary to see if they can guess “who lives down there?” If they wrote down the answers to the three questions I gave them and send a letter to me using the school’s post office, I would help them identify ground holes in their yards or nearby parks. The kids were pretty cool, but the adults giggled when I invited everyone to tell me about their holes. I have received no letters thus far.

Check out more pix of our awesome Earth Day. Sadly, the composting station didn’t get photographed. The kids really got into worm poop.