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Where are the warmest places in a forest?

March 3, 2020

Did you know that deer mice stay active all winter long? They still have to move through the forest to find food, hide from predators, and stay warm doing it. A mouse is a small creature in a big forest, so what paths might they take? Probably the warmest ones! Where is the warmest spot in the forest? Let's find out!

 

Which of these 5 places do you think is the warmest spot in the forest?

  • In the water

  • Near the water (shore)

  • In open forest

  • Near logs or stumps,

  • At the base of a live tree

Students from Charlestown and Claremont schools were asked this question in February.  Then, they were split into groups with thermometers and data sheets to measure temperatures in these micro-habitats and record them. 

 

Each group shared their data with the group as a whole and each habitat's temperature measurements were averaged in order to answer the question above. 

 

What were the results

In the water was by far the warmest place in winter. If you think about it, of the five choices, it makes sense. If the water is flowing, it is usually right around freezing - 32 degrees F. Everything else on the list is much colder. 

 

Not what you expected?

Most of the students predicted near a log would be the warmest spot on the list, but in many cases, it was the coolest!

 

 

Now, mice do not live in the water, so that's obviously not where they will be moving in the forest. The shore and near the base of a live tree were the next warmest places. 

 

Where else might mice move in the forest?

The students looked around and came up with some other places to test: stick piles, under leaves, holes in the soil, holes in trees, and under the snow. Each group picked one micro-habitat and measured the temperature of 3 different spots and averaged them. 

 

Most of these places were warmer than the first list of places. The middle of stick piles and holes in the soil were the warmest. So the students concluded that mice would most likely run under the snow when possible from tree to stick pile to a hole in the ground. Though the hole in the ground could be inhabitated, so they would need to take care!

 

Extensions

This simple investigation can lead to asking questions and learning about insulation - body fat, fur, down feathers, dens, snow, etc., weather, and snowpack studies. If the habitat itself is only so warm, how else does the animal stay warm? What adaptations or behaviors help it survive cold New England winters?

 

Students love to investigate the answers to these kind of questions and winter is a great time to move around in the forest collecting information and trying out insulation ideas.

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