Fall is on its way. Soon lots of trees will shed lots and lots of leaves. If you have trees in your yard, dead leaves will soon cover your lawn. Someone will have to rake them up. And bag them. And then get rid of them.
That’s only one yard. What about the woods or any other natural area?
Already trees there have dropped rotten fruits, dead twigs, and old flowers. Now they’ll add leaves. This happens every year.
So why aren’t the woods choking in rotten, dead tree stuff? Where does all that stuff go? Who rakes the woods? Read on to find out.
A Super Supper
Trees aren’t the only things that die in the woods. Think about this: What happens to dead birds? Or squirrels and chipmunks? Or bugs, spiders, ants, flies? All these creatures die sometime. But when they do, what happens to their bodies? Who picks them up? Who rakes the woods to clean it up?
No one rakes the woods. Instead, there’s a whole cadre of critters out there who love to eat dead things. Any body will do: Dead plants? Yum! Dead animals? A super supper! That may sound downright disgusting to us, but it’s perfect for creation. These little creatures clean up the messes, and they recycle everything. Because fall’s their busy season, this is a good time to go out and meet them. Discover who these creatures are, why we need them, and how God made them special.
The Rotten Vegetable Crew
Did you know that plants can starve? They can! To grow well, plants need to take certain vitamins and minerals (called nutrients) from the soil. Without those nutrients, plants can’t grow well.
Where do these nutrients come from? They’re recycled from dead plants so they can move through the soil into live plants. Who does the recycling? The Rotten Vegetable Crew. They love eating rotten fruit, dead plants, and all those dead leaves that will soon litter the earth.
The first shift is critters that break wood apart. Woodpeckers drill holes; beetles and ants chew tunnels. Termites and cockroaches actually eat wood. Look at a rotten log in the woods to meet some of these critters. Roll the log over to see more of them. Then roll the log back, so they can stay at “home.”
Look under leaf piles and rotten vegetable stuff for the second shift: snails, slugs, some beetles, pill bugs, millipedes, harvestmen (daddy longlegs), mites, earthworms, and some grubs. They break dead plants into small pieces. The smaller the critter, the smaller the pieces it leaves behind.
The third and last shift of the Rotten Plant Crew? Fungi (that’s the word for more than one fungus). They’re the mushroom-like things you find growing in the woods. Their “roots” absorb small bits of nutrients from the soil, break it down more, and feed it directly to the roots of living green plants.
Imagine creation without the Rotten Vegetable Crew: Dead plants stacked up everywhere. All nutrients locked inside them. No nutrients in the soil. No plants can grow. Therefore, no food. Therefore, no life on earth.
So thank the Rotten Vegetable Crew for making your fresh vegetables (and all your food) possible!
The Carrion Crew
Meet the carrion crew. God created them to eat dead animals. Some of them are big guys: vultures, ravens, magpies, crows, raccoons, and possums. They sniff out and eat tasty meat that’s not been dead too long. Coyotes, bears, skunks, and foxes also aren’t above snacking on the stuff. After the carrion (dead animal) has been shredded, aged, and become downright disgusting, the second shift moves in.
These guys are flies, ants, and beetles looking for some good rotten meat to eat. They love it, fight over it, live in it, and lay eggs in it. Some even feed it to their young grubs or maggots.
Right about now you’re probably saying, “Yuck! I feel sick!” But imagine creation without this crew. Dead, slimy, stinky bodies would cover the planet. The smell would be awful, and the germs would be worse. Earth would be one huge garbage dump.
So thank the Carrion Crew for cleaning up the yucky messes. And thank the Creator, who made the Carrion Crew so that we could live on a clean, healthy earth.
How Can They Eat That??
God gave each of the creatures in his cleanup crews exactly what it needs for its job. Here are some examples:
- Vultures have no feathers on their heads. They root around in nasty garbage and come out clean-headed. Their stomachs have acids that kill germs that would make us sick.
- Maggots produce a special fluid that helps them eat dead tissue and deadly germs.
- Termites and some cockroaches have certain bacteria in their stomachs that help them digest wood. No other creature has those bacteria.
- Some fungi release special chemicals that help decompose dead plants.
- Pill bugs breathe through gills rather than lungs. They’re created to live under damp leaves.
- Daddy longlegs grow all summer so they’re at their biggest in the fall. That’s when they eat the most.
- Sexton beetles bury their food (small dead animals) before they tear it apart, lay eggs on it, and feed it to their young.
About the Author
Joanne De Jonge is a freelance writer and a former U.S. National Park Ranger. She attends West Valley Christian Fellowship in Phoenix, Ariz.