How do signs of spring involve science?

Learn about the changing seasons, how living things make it through the winter and more about science in the natural world.

Spring is a time of anticipation and new opportunities; it’s like New Year’s Day. You may remember the Michigan State University Extension article about certain things which are signs of spring. While outside my 2-year-old son, we discovered some additional signs that spring is headed our way.

MSU Extension has updated its signs of spring list this year with these additions:

  1. Water – With spring rains and snow melt water levels in local bodies of water will rise. While closely watching youth, and holding their hands, go to the water’s edge. Put a stick in the mud right where the water meets the land. Ask the kids to guess whether or not the water will go up or down when you come back the next day. You can have different sticks and observe how the water level changes over time. The U.S. Geological Survey has gauging stations where they track stream levels. If you can’t go out to a stream, you can view the river levels rise and fall at online.
  2. Erosion – As water washes over a landscape, it picks up dirt and soil and carries it to the stream. You can measure water clarity by putting a coin in the bottom of a tall, clear cylinder. Stand above the cylinder and look straight down. Slowly add creek water until the coin disappears. Compare it to tap water. Investigate why the creek water gets so much cloudier?
  3. Animal waste – There are certain areas where animals like to hang out in the winter. Their waste builds up in certain areas. Unlike the summertime, where insects can break down the waste, over the winter it accumulates and you can see it all at once. My son and I noticed lots of rabbit droppings under our bird feeder, deer droppings out in a stand of sumac and manure from a feral cat that had been using our herb beds as litter boxes. The Habitat in the backyard series as additional information.
  4. Tracks – Mud makes a great place to check out animal tracks. It can be even better for tracking than snow. How many animals do you think made the tracks? Why did they walk through a particular area? Where were they going?
  5. Chewed plants – This past winter has been particularly harsh. Some animal struggled to find food. As you walk through your yard, try to notice if critters have been eating the plants. Guess what might be eating them. Different animals have different bite patterns. Some rodents have tunnels under the snow and chew at the bark hidden from predators. If you have low growing plants, like junipers, lift them up to see if something has been chewing them. Deer tend to leave a rough, ragged edge on the branches and plants they eat, while rabbits tend to have a clean cut stem.
  6. Broken tree limbs – The ice storms this winter resulted in a lot of broken limbs. Why did some limbs break but not others? Try to guess. Investigate the fallen limbs and look for signs of insect damage or diseases.
  7. Insects – Insects come out at different times in the spring based on temperature. Try to guess when you will have your first fly, mosquito or monarch butterfly. You can track this and keep a journal from year-to-year

Enjoy the signs of spring and use this opportunity to feed the intellectual curiosity of the children in your life.

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