mystery The answer to the clues may be found at the bottom of this column.    Teachers and Parents: Enter to win an entire set of Dawn’s nature books of one title for your home or classroom. It's fun and easy!
Just read the clues below. They describe an aspect of nature—a plant, animal, mineral, habitat, or natural process.
When you're ready to make your guess about who or what I am, click ENTER NOW.
Who Am I?
spacerglass1 Clue 1:  I'm a member of the "dog family."
glass1 Clue 2:  I live throughout North America in deserts, prairies, forests, and even in towns and cities.
glass1 Clue 3:  You might hear me howling at night to communicate with my pack.
glass1 Clue 4:  Don't let me trick you—I am NOT a wolf.
Do you think you know who I am? ENTER NOW.
Entries should be submitted no later than noon on Friday.
If you guessed correctly, you’re automatically entered into the monthly drawing for a set of nature books from Dawn Publications.
A contest winner will be announced at the end of September.
Throughout the school year, clues for a new Who Am I are posted no later than Sunday night, so you can use them with your class on Monday morning.Good luck!
The answer to last week's mystery was: SEASHELLS Although Inside Outside Nature blog is changing it's focus, this weekly "Who Am I?" will remain the same! Teachers, click here to get ideas about how to use the contest with your students.  

The Mysterious Mast Year

Like a busy squirrel, I scurried around collecting acorns.

Oak woodlands are one of main habitats in my area. I wanted to introduce my elementary students to the ecological connections in this amazing habitat, so I planned an outside game.  I had just one concern—the game required 100 acorns and I didn’t think I’d be able to collect enough of them.

I had no reason to worry. I found acorns everywhere! As it turns out, my area is having a “mast year” — that’s when all of the  oak trees in a region produce a bumper crop of acorns. (Other states having mast years this fall include parts of Wisconsin, Tennessee,  and Virginia.)

I find it fascinating that even though oak trees are commonly found all across the country, scientists don’t really know why or when mast years will happen. Marc Abrams, a professor of forestry at Penn State, described the mast year phenomenon as “one of the amazing mysteries in nature that we still do not have a handle on. . . There’s no way to predict it.”

However, scientists do have a few theories. Some think that a mast year is nature’s way of saturating the market with acorns, so that after wildlife eat their fill, there will be enough acorns left to grow into seedlings. Other biologists believe that mast years are related to particular weather conditions that favor acorn production. And some believe mast years might be attributed to chemical communication through the trees root system.

Whatever the reason for the over abundance of acorns this year, the acorn woodpeckers, squirrels, and my students are happy it’s a mast year.


Inside: Acorns and Seed Dispersal

The word “acorn” is a combination of “ak” for oak and “corn” meaning seed thus acorn means oak seed. Young children will enjoy hearing the life story of an acorn in the book In a Nutshell by Joseph Anthony. And his other book, Dandelion Seed, follows a little seed as it floats to new adventures. This link will take you to an online kindergarten lesson about seed dispersal that includes both acorns and dandelion seeds.


Outside: Who Will Survive: Squirrels or Woodpeckers?

Acorn Woodpecker on granary tree.


Who will survive winter in the oak woodland—the Grey Squirrels who bury their acorns or the Acorn Woodpeckers who store their acorns in granary trees?

Your students will find out when they play this game (pdf),  which I modified from “Investigating the Oak Community” by Kay Antunez de Mayolo for the California Oak Foundation.

Although I used real acorns, if you’re not having a mast year, your students can make acorns out of clay.


More Acorn and Oak Tree Fun and Facts

Explore “Exciting Acorn Songs, Crafts and Activities Preschoolers Will Love” at the Bright Hub Education website.

Jays compete with  squirrels for acorns in this  hide-and-seek game from Earthwork’s Orchard Curriculum. For grades 2-5

Download a pdf of the Center for Ecoliteracy’s 38-page Oak Woodland Activity for interesting and informative lessons. Adaptable for grades 4-8