Ecosystem Explorers Catch Raindrops at Muddy Creek

Reflections by Naturalist & Walk Leader Andrea Higgins
Photos courtesy of Ecosystem Explorer Caregivers

August 22, 2022

HCT Ecosystem Explorers met for our last adventure of the season on Monday morning, August 22nd, at the beautiful Muddy Creek Headwaters Preserve. We gathered under a sheet of clouds ready to burst with imminent showers. Youngsters and their caregivers came prepared with umbrellas and bright colored rainboots and raincoats, with the sweetest smiles decorating their faces.

First up for the day’s adventure, Explorers sat together on a bench for my reading of Ladybugs by Gail Gibbons. We learned that these beetles live on six of the seven continents. Many scientists believe there are about 5000 different kinds of ladybugs around the world and about 475 types in North America. Some can live about a month and others up to two years depending on the species. These fun insects are also a gardener’s friend as they eat plant-damaging bugs.

There are four stages of the ladybug life cycle. An adult female may lay between 2 and 100 eggs, which hatch into larvae after a few days. The larvae first eat their eggshells, then move on to eating aphids, of which they can consume about 30 a day. The larvae molt up to three times while growing before attaching to a safe place to transform into pupae. Inside the pupa, it continues to change and develop before splitting open and pulling its body out, headfirst. An adult ladybug can eat 100 aphids and other tiny insects in a day.

After absorbing all that knowledge, we were inspired to get creative with a ladybug art project. I handed each explorer a large, sturdy piece of paper to create a habitat, which could serve as a game board too. I had painted rocks to create replicas of these red and black-spotted beetles and invited each friend to choose one. These rocks could “live” in our Explorers’ habitat creations, designed as flower fields and an orchard with trees covered with ripe red apples.

I brought a ladybug library for artists who finished their creations early and wanted to read with their caregivers while others continued to decorate their masterpieces. The library books included Little Critters Ladybugs by Lisa J. Amstutz, Ten Little Ladybugs by Melanie Gerth, and Start to Finish from Egg to Ladybug by Lisa Owings.

Our HCT Explorers were putting finishing touches on their ladybug habitats and turning the last pages of the storybooks when raindrops began to fall. We tucked our designs away to keep them dry, then set off down the path to celebrate the much-needed rain. Gray skies were made brighter by the cheery colored raincoats and umbrellas swishing down the trail.

I invited our group to pause and close umbrellas to listen to the falling rain. We focused on the sounds as the drops fell on the leaves and ground. We stretched out our hands and tilted our heads back with mouths wide open to catch them on our fingertips and tongues. Sweet laughter and squeals of delight filled the Preserve as Explorers proclaimed, “I caught one!” and one youngster’s claim to have caught “hundreds” of drops in just a mere moment.

Another pause on the path was taken to feel the spongy, wet moss and the tender lichen as the rain instantly changed its form and feeling from dry and brittle to soft, tender, and springy. We admired the circular, ripple patterns decorating the creek as drops fell. Our youngest Explorer brought her ladybug rock along for the walk, holding it in her outstretched hand and making buzzing sounds to pretend the ladybug was flying up the trail.

We walked close to Muddy Creek and sampled the pickle weed Salicornia (sometimes called sea pickles). This succulent grows in salt marshes and along beaches and is native to North America. Our taste buds were tickled as we crunched the salty, briny peapod.

Our wonder wander continued along the wildflower meadow and back to the parking area where I wished our caregivers and Explorers a wonderful day and for a fantastic upcoming school year. It was such fun to have our first rainy day walk together on our last HCT Ecosystem Explorer adventure of the season. I loved learning, laughing, exploring, and creating together. I look forward to seeing you again next summer. For our local friends, I am thrilled to continue our Preschool Explorer adventures starting again in October on Tuesdays from 9-10:30 a.m.

Happy exploring and thank you for bringing such joy and curiosity to our programs and to the incredible HCT preserves.

Wishing all tremendous happiness always,

Ms. Andrea