Wednesday, March 6, 2024

Beneath the Leaves

This has been an extremely warm winter – the lowest temperature in January was 9° F – with very little snow, and what snow we got didn’t last long before melting. One day in early February, when there was no snow to be seen at the house and it was 50°F, I repeated an exercise I’d done several years ago (see it here). Out to the woodland behind the house I went and gathered a handful of fallen and decaying leaves. Into a white plastic basin they went and back into the house I went with basin in hand.

There, with plenty of light, I used two precision tweezers and a hand lens to sort through the leaves and seeds and earthworm casts to search out the small creatures that live among, and feast on, the forest’s debris and on other small creatures beneath the leaves.

Since the temperature had been a bit below freezing a few days earlier and the ground was without an insulating covering of snow I was surprised by some of the things I found.

There were four Soil Centipedes, speedy predators of even smaller creatures that live in the forest floor. They were of different sizes and shades of tan –

Two of these small beetles were among the leaves. I couldn’t identify them but assume they feed on decaying leaves or fungus –

Also among the unidentified was this small and very attractive spider –

Speaking of spiders, there were some that I could identify: a small Wolf Spider, a Dwarf Spider (yes, that’s its name) and a Bark Crab Spider –

There were only two springtails to be found, both of the same species – Elongate-bodied Springtail. Springtails somewhat resemble insects and were considered to be insects when I was in college oh so many years ago, but now they are in a separate class. They derive their name from a process under their abdomen that gives them the ability to flip through the air to escape predators –

There was an earthworm among the leaves, almost certainly a European species since native earthworms were eliminated from glaciated areas. The European worms were introduced by settlers who brought potted fruit trees and garden plants to the New World –

The Garden Slug is another introduced species that I found among the leaves. Since they’re entirely soft-bodied it was really surprising that this one survived January’s colder days –

Another surprising survivor was this moth larva (caterpillar), perhaps the larva of an owlet moth –

One of the last critters I found in the handful of leaves was this well camouflaged Rough Stink Bug –

Gathering and sorting through a handful of decaying leaves is an enjoyable activity, allowing us to see things we don't see in the usual course of our lives. It also makes me
curious about how many small animals are crushed with every footstep we take in the forest – curious but not guilty.


  1. Now those are some interesting bugs!

  2. I have a cute alligator and you have an attractive spider...what does that say about us? heeheehee! I enjoyed this post!

  3. Fascinating mini-ecosystem! Love the variety of creatures you found.

  4. Wow - amazing collection of critters indeed!
    Thank you for sharing.
    Be well!

  5. Woody, I'm commenting by simply searching for your blog and finding it. But if I click on your name when you leave a comment on my blog, it takes me back to your post of Oct. 19th on fungi, where it won't let me make comments. A blogger issue I expect.

  6. It's fixed -- I think, for some reason on my end Blogger had two links to my blog. The one that was checked was a link to that old post, I unchecked that one and checked the other and it's fixed -- I think.


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