Watching Wood Rot
Let's give three cheers to all the creatures on this planet that like to
consume dead things. If it weren't for these essential critters, we would soon
be buried up to our necks in leaves, tree branches and trunks, and animal
Decomposition is a key process in recycling carbon, oxygen, and nutrients
needed for life on this planet. It can also offer several great watchable
wildlife opportunities. Roll over a rotting log and you will find whole
communities of ants, sow bugs, termites, and earthworms slowly digesting the
wood and cellulose.
component of this community not readily apparent except when they fruit are
fungi. These organisms conduct their work inside the wood. Mycellium grow and
multiply slowly consuming the wood. They recycle the nutrients from the wood
they digest. If you break apart a piece of rotting wood, you can sometimes see
the mycelium as a stringy mesh throughout the wood. It is not until the fungi
fruit into what we recognize as mushrooms, toadstools, etc., that we realize
they are in the wood.
Other decay activities to witness are earthworms slurping leaves. During wet
periods, earthworms will pull dead leaves underground to consume them. Looking
closely, you can actually see leaves curl and disappear into the earthworm
burrow. Listen and you may even be able to hear the slurping sound they make.
Ichneumon wasps will lay their eggs inside dead standing wood. If you are
lucky enough to stumble upon this sight, you can watch as wasp after wasp uses
its long ovipositor to drill into the wood. The wasp actually lay their eggs on
larvae feeding on the wood. The young hatch, and the wasp larvae consume their
Woodpeckers are also great in assisting the decay process. Evidence of
woodpecker activity is often a sign a tree has been infected by bugs or disease.
While watching woodpeckers chip away you can get a feel for the whole process of
recycling that occurs.
Activities that you can try with your kids or parents are to keep a written
or photographic journal of the decomposition process. Next time instead of
watching grass grow, or paint dry, do something fun - watch wood rot.