Written by Stalac-Tate
A living organism spends its life in a habitat. It is the natural home or environment of an animal, plant, or other organisms. There are a variety of habitats but each one needs four main components; food, water, shelter, and space. Here at Cave of the Mounds, we have different areas that provide an assortment of different habitats that can all be seen on a habitat hike.
As you walk around our property, we have an Oak Savanna, sinkholes, prairie, and even, a chert boulder that could be areas an animal, plant, or other organisms could live in. Different areas on the property provide different habitat ecosystems. What living things would you expect to find here?
In the Oak Savanna Woodland, it is damp and cool. There are large trees that can be home to birds, squirrels, frogs, or other creatures. Birds make their homes in the tree trunks or nest on top of branches. Whereas bugs live in the trees like beetles, tree frogs, and slugs that can live under the bark of the trees. If you explore our trail through the Oak Valley, you can find evidence of animals using this space as a habitat, and it’s not just in the trees.
Continuing on our habitat hike, there is a chert creek that flows through our property. It is the main source of natural water on our grounds and so many animals use it. This creek is an intermittent stream meaning that there is not always water in it all the time. The amount of water is based on how much it has rained, or how much snowmelt we have. After a hard rain, the creek has lots of flowing water. If there is no rain for a long time, it can get dry, but there are usually a couple of places you still can find pools.
When the stream is flowing, there are no fish in it. However, it a water source for many animals. In the dryer months, it becomes a place for insects to live or frogs to chill out. Sometimes, a small ecosystem forms from a puddle along the creek when the water isn’t flowing.
Sinkholes are not often thought of as a good habitat for animals. However, red-winged blackbirds nest in the ground and can be seen using sinkholes for their nests during the summertime. The male bird will “guard” the ground nest by flying over the area in a hexagonal pattern, alerting the female when danger is near.
The full tall grasses of the prairie are great for living under and hiding. Flowers are great pollinators that attract bees and butterflies. We have woolly bears, snakes, chipmunks, butterflies, grasshoppers, and even groundhogs that make their home in our prairie. All of these are great examples of food for other larger animals such as foxes, owls, and hawks. Flowers are great pollinators.
Remember how I mentioned that even a chert boulder can be a habitat. Chert has these small holes that could be used as a shelter for a bug during rainy days to stay dry or to cool off during hot days in the shade. There are moss and lichen growing on the boulder. Water sometimes pools up in some of the holes providing nourishment for all kinds of creatures. Insects, small animals, birds, and much more use this boulder every day in all sorts of ways.
But what about the cave? Can the Cave of the Mounds be a good habitat? YES! However, it’s not a good habitat for the usual cave dwellers like bats, spiders, bears, bugs, or worms. Instead, we have springtails. They are tiny hexapods, smaller than an insect, that eats the bacteria in the still ponds of water we have. They make their way into the cave the same way water and air get in, through the cracks in the limestone. There is no natural entrance to the Cave of the Mounds, so Springtails are the only creature you will find. You will have to look closely as they are about the size of a spec of dust or grain of salt.
Come to Cave of the Mounds and see if you can observe any of our animal friends in their habitat on your own habitat hike. As you explore, please remember:
- Be respectful of both plants and animals
- Don’t be mean to our animals, you’re in their home
- Don’t pick flowers, that’s someone’s next meal
- If you whisper in hush tones, you might see more than if you were yelling