Dissect a rotting log

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Dissect a rotting log
Age Range 3-5 (PreK-K), 5-8 (grades 1-2), 8-11 (grades 3-5), 11-14 (grades 6-8)
Group Size small (1-5), medium (6-20)
Setting outdoors
Setup Time medium (6-30 min)
Duration medium (11-30 min)
Subjects habitats, decomposition
Key terms dissect, arthropods, decomposers, decay, soil
Materials rotten log, gloves, popsicle sticks
Alias rotting log activity
Presentation Style active, interactive, student led

Brief Description

Students dissect a rotten log to see what lives inside.

Scientific Background

Dead logs on the forest floor may look untidy, but one-fifth of all woodland creatures reside in them. All kinds of plants and animals make their homes in different parts of the log. Some of these animals help to further the decomposition process of the log. The log actually becomes a mini-habitat, perfect for studying the relationships among decomposers, the soil community, and green plants.

A rotting log is a prime example of how a once-living organism replenishes the soil with nutrients and is recycled back into nature. In nature, death does not mean uselessness. Death and decomposition play important roles in the cycles of nature. As plants and animals die and decay, they are broken down to become a basis for new life. Through this process, the soil is renewed over and over again.

The elements that help break down dead materials are called decomposers. Examples of these include bacteria, fungus, lichens, moss, weather, insects, worms, and other scavengers.

This Is How You Play

  1. Find a dead rotting log that is soft and can be pulled apart easily with your hands. Get multiple pieces if necessary.
  2. If you're not doing the activity right away, place the log in a container and mist it with some water. You can also seal it with a table cloth so critters can't escape, but don't make the seal air tight, or the creatures could die!
  3. If students are squeamish about touching the log with their bare hands, then give them gloves or popsicle sticks to dig into the wood.
  4. All the creatures they encounter should be safe, but be sure to facilitate the activity closely just in case.
  5. Sweep up afterwards.


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