What is a frog?

Frog spawn in Nowhere WoodIt is late February, the cold weather has moved away and the frogs have moved back in. It’s been a couple of years since they were last here, but here are their newly-laid eggs and the female is hiding beneath the leaf in the top left corner of the photograph. What is a frog and how is it having adventures in Nowhere Wood?

Frogs are amphibians, animals with backbones that live for most of the year on land, but which have to return to water to breed. A female with eggs is popular with males, which compete with each other to get close to her.

When she releases here eggs into the water, the males release their sperm onto the eggs. Fertilisation takes place in the water. The female lays about 2 000 eggs and many of them die. The brown eggs in the top photograph are probably a clutch of eggs that have died.

 

 

 

Inside the egg, the embryo is growing into a juvenile tadpole, feeding on the jelly that surrounds it. It will grow a tail and gills and become a free swimming tadpole. Soon, the tadpole will break free and have to make its way as an independent animal, all of the while developing into the adult frog.

There are dangers in the water: tadpoles become carnivores and will eat each other and there are other predators, too. There is also a real chance that the water in the pond will disappear if we have a prolonged dry spell.

The frogs in Nowhere Wood are having adventures, moving forward into an unknown future, with no certainty of success. Most of these eggs will be eaten and will become food for other organisms; one or two might survive. Most years, frogs return to the water to breed, as frogs everywhere have done for the last 265 million years.

1. The survival of the frogs is not just due to chance. There is competition between male frogs to get close to the females eggs. How does this help to increase the success of the mating?

2. There is also competition between tadpoles for food. How does this help ensure that some frogs will survive to become adults that can reproduce for themselves?

3. What, do you think, is a frog?

Frog news update:

One week on, and the spawn has floated to the edge of the pond and the adds are swollen because they have taken up water. They still look healthy. Fingers crossed for the next stage!

 

 

Early risers!

The singing trees

ice freezes the pondWinter has come to Nowhere Wood and ice has formed around the fallen trees in the pond. Everything shivers and wood is silent again. Squirrels search for food in the frozen mud, but everything else is waiting, biding its time.

 

 

 

Silent, except for an ancient overgrown hedge formed from a row of old trees, bound together into a thicket by generations of bramble stems. These trees are singing, for this is the home of the tree sparrows. The trees are just outside the wood, next to a path much used by dogs taking their owners for a daily walk.

 

 

 

The tree sparrows are warm, protected from the icy wind by the layers of dead branches that surround them. Impenetrable, they are hidden amongst the branches, out of harm’s way. In this forgotten place, they thrive and they sing.

 

Well not quite forgotten. In the garden of a house, less than 10 metres from the singing trees, is a garden with a bird feeder, filled daily by its residents. The sparrows dart from the hedge to the feeder and then back again, hour after hour, making sure they do not go hungry.

 

Small acts of kindness can make a big difference to the birds in Nowhere Wood. These ancient hedges are important, too, as wildlife corridors, joining ancient woodlands together, giving animals a chance to move safely across the landscape.

  1. Why are the ancient hedges such a good place for the tree sparrows to live?
  2. Why are bird feeders so important in the winter months?

Spring is coming!

the shortest dayNowhere Wood on December 23rd was silent and still. The wood was in midwinter, at its furthest point from the Sun on its journey through the seasons. At only 7 hours and 49 minutes, this was the shortest day  and darkness ruled the wood. From now onwards the days will get longer by about two minutes each day until midsummer’s day in July.

new born squirrelsThe air was was misty and damp. No birds sang. The only movements were from ten or more baby squirrels running up and down trees, looking for food. The plentiful acorns in the autumn gave their parents the nutrients the needed to produce a special autumn litter.

 

Even by January, the wood had moved onwards and the days were drawing out. Robins sang from high branches of trees, marking out the wood into their territories, preparing for the coming spring.

 

 

Jackdaws and magpies fought for the right to control the high airspaces and the food that the neighbouring houses throw away. The wood was bustling with movement and sound.

 

 

Today is February 1st, the day that the Celtic peoples call Imbolc, the first day of spring. The flowers are opening and the frogs will soon return to our ponds to breed. Look upwards to the sky.

Spring is coming!

  1. Think about the acorns that filled the floor of Nowhere Wood in September. How have they led to the birth of the new squirrels?
  2. What changes have you seen in your neighbourhood in the last few weeks since January?

What is a frog?

A year in the life of a sugar factory

The leaves of plants are everywhere in Nowhere Wood, helping to keep the wood alive. Leaves are organs: collections of living tissues and cells, having adventures in time and space. This is the story of a year in the life of an oak leaf.

Leaves are factories for making sugar from sunlight, water and carbon dioxide from the air. No human factory can do this, which is why we, and all other organisms, are so dependent on plants. Leaves are the producers of food.

In is late November and the cells that will divide to make the new leaf are protected safely inside the scales of the bud. Early in March, when the days warm and get longer, stem cells within the bud start to divide many times, producing all of the cells of the new leaf. To start with, the cells are very small and all look the same.

Soon, the cells take up water and get much larger. They escape the protection of the bud and the new leaf emerges. The new cells no longer look the same: they are on different journeys of development, becoming all of the different cells and tissues that make up the leaf.

 

The leaf is a factory for making sugar. Like any factory, it has a source of energy and transport systems to get the raw materials into the factory.  It also moves the manufactured sugar out to the places in the plant where it is needed. The heart of the factory is the production line where sugar is made. These are called chloroplasts and the leaf has millions of them, all making sugar whenever the sun shines. The Spring and Summer are sugar making seasons.

Gradually, in the autumn, when the days get cooler and shorter, the sugar factories are shut down and abandoned. The chloroplasts lie in ruins as everything useful is recycled back into the branches of the tree. All that remain are the frameworks of cell walls, turning brown as they dry in the autumn air.

 

Finally, the oak tree makes a special layer of cells that separates the old leaf from the stem, and the leaf is ready to fall when the wind blows strongly. The fallen leaves are not wasted, becoming energy stores for the organisms that feed on them. Next year’s buds are forming and wait for spring and the production of new leaves.

If leaves are factories form making sugar, then trees are factories for making leaves.

Everything has its own season in Nowhere Wood.

  1. Think about how the leaf is a factory for making sugar. Where does its energy store come from? How do the raw materials get to the production line?
  2. The production of leaves is sustainable in Nowhere Wood. What do you think this sentence means?

Subterranean superheroes