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Science Fun: Leaf Litter

Have a child wondering what all those fallen leaves are good for? ... Well besides jumping in, of course. Here's a fun activity that shows how fallen leaves are turned into soil.

Equipment for this activity:

garden gloves
magnifying glass

First, find a place where leaves pile up. Look away from areas where they are trampled, such as paths. A good place to look is under a big shrub or bush or back in a wooded area that isn't traveled much.

Next, gently move aside the surface layer of leaves. The next layer down from the top layer looks like a bunch of crumbled up leaves. Gently move that layer aside and you'll find a layer of leaf remains that look a lot like soil.

How is this happening if the leaves aren't being disturbed by humans or large animals?

Well, very small organisms called bacteria and fungi rot the leaves. Bacteria and fungi aren't the only things that help turn the leaves to soil, but they are a main factor.

Use your magnifying glass to look at each layer of leaf litter. What do you see? [Note: You may want to record your findings in a nature journal or lab book.]

In the upper layers you may find beetles eating the leaves. In moist (damp) areas you might see millipedes break leaves into small pieces that bacteria and fungi work on. You may also see certain types of ants doing the same thing. [Caution: some ants and other bugs bite or sting! Make sure and wear your gloves while doing your observations.]

In deep layers spiders, centipedes, and other creatures eat bits of leaves crumbled from weathering or broken up by larger bugs.

In the very bottom layers you may find earthworms composting the leaf litter even further. Earthworms eat decayed leaves and soil.

Another science experiment that you might find interesting is called a Fruit Fly Farm. Have fun!!! Science is interesting!!!


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