Busy Beekeepers!

The Home Schoolers were all abuzz this week learning about urban farming and BEES! Not only are bees superb pollinators, they also  make the most delicious honey! Backyard beekeeping has become popular among urban farmers and it is easy to see why. Who doesn’t love their sweet honey?!


Photo Credit: Houston Arboretum & Nature Center

The students saw a fantastic presentation by Uncommon Bees! They brought tools and gear for the students to see, talked about the bees make honey, and how Uncommon Bees process it! They even brought yummy samples!

Mason Bee_Photo Credit: Houston Arboretum & Nature Center

For more information about Uncommon Bees, including where you can buy their products, visit them on Facebook here. Check out their pictures below!

Image may contain: one or more people
They brought some really cool tools!

Image may contain: 2 people, child and indoor

Image may contain: 1 person, child
Learning about hives and honeycombs
Image may contain: one or more people and people standing
Check out that beekeeping outfit!

Heart Smart!

The heart is a pretty amazing organ! Did you know your heart is actually a muscle? In fact, it is one of the strongest muscles in your body! To keep your heart healthy you should eat healthy foods, drinks plenty of water, reduce stress, and exercise.

Some of my favorite workouts include hiking (at the Houston Arboretum, of course!), swimming, dancing, and yoga. What is your favorite way to exercise?

Here is a fun way to exercise – download and assemble this Healthy Heart Spinner! Follow the instructions for some heart-pumping fun!

Here are some other awesome facts about hearts:

  • Your heart is about the size and shape of your two hands clasped together
  • It beats approximately 100,000 times per day! Whew!
  • It can pump 1.3 gallons of blood every minute
  • The heart is actually a muscle
  • The blue whale has the largest heart – it weighs about 1,500 pounds!
  • A fairy fly has the smallest heart of any living creature
  • Laughing is good for your heart! It helps to reduce stress!


Check out this video about the circulation system!


Our Amazing Body

Review of Systems

Our body is comprised of eleven different systems, each with it’s own function to help keep our bodies healthy and moving! Can you name all eleven systems and their functions? Here is a review of the systems we are studying in our Amazing Body Systems Units. (Review of Body Systems).

Circulatory – Pumps blood carrying oxygen and nutrients throughout the body, and carries waste and carbon dioxide back out.

Respiratory – Inhales oxygen into the body and expels carbon dioxide.

Nervous – Sends and receives messages from throughout the body about how to react.

Muscular – Allows movement for our bodies.

Skeletal – Gives our bodies shape and structure, protects our organs, and allows for movements.

Digestive – Breaks down food for our bodies to use as energy.

Endocrine – Controls body functions by the use of hormones.

Excretory – Cleans the blood system and rids the body of waste.

Immune – Fights disease.

Integument – Skin covering our bodies that help cool us down, warm us up, and protect us from invaders.

Reproductive – Produces cells and hormones necessary for reproduction and to create new offspring.


NPS Junior Forest Ranger Program

You are on the way to becoming an official Junior Ranger! Your goal for this month is to finish the Junior Ranger booklet we gave you in class today. When you complete all the activities, mail in the postcard on the back of the booklet and they will send you the Official Junior Forest Ranger pin! You will also receive a membership card to gain access to the JFR Clubhouse!

Did you know there are even MORE Junior Ranger badges you can earn? Did you know many of the National Parks and Monuments also have Junior Rangers programs, including several here in Texas? Click on the link here to check their website for more information.


Junior Forest Ranger BookletWe would like to thank the National Park Service for sending us the booklets, and encouraging kids to “Explore, Learn, and Protect!” 

Who Ate Our Food?

As part of our Mammal Study this month we learned that we don’t always get to see the animals in the wild. Sometimes we have to look for the signs an animals has been in the area. One of the easiest ways is to look for animal tracks! So, we set up a field experiment to see if we could identify which animals live in our forest. Grab your Wildlife Tracks Field Guide and see which ones you can identify!

First, we set out bait to attract animals to the area. The bait was placed in the middle of a pile of smoothed sand to make it easier to see the tracks. Then we left it overnight and checked it again in the morning. What foods did we use? Why did we use both meat and plants?

First animals to arrive on the scene! Unfortunately, they aren’t mammals!

Here is the 5 year old class site. The food is gone! The sand has been dug up. And notice the hula hoop? It was missing! It was dragged into the woods about 7 feet away. I wonder if the mammal was hula-hooping in the woods? 🙂

The 6-7 year old class only had one piece of carrot left on it. Check out all the tracks!


The 8-9 class added acorns to their bait. These tracks appear to be smaller. You can clearly see toe marks.

Last site belongs to the 10-12 year old class. In addition to turkey meat and carrots, they added peanut butter and granola bars! There were tracks every where!

The 10-12 year old class set up a game camera to see if we could snap a picture of our late night visitors. Our camera is motioned sensored and has night vision making it perfect for our bait sites. And guess who we saw on it?

Coyotes!! We were so excited to see them checking out the area. But, we wondered who else was coming to dinner? There were lots of prints of different shapes and sizes that we still needed to identify. So, we moved the game camera over to the compost bin nearby. What mammals do you think came to snack on leftover food?




Wait? Mr. Justin?!? Well, he is a mammal!

A few reminders!

Just a quick reminder that we do not have Home School classes this Monday, November 20th. We will return on Monday, November 27th to finish up our Mammal Study unit! It will be an awesome class as we learn about mammal tracks and other signs of mammal activity. AND we will see if any animals came to visit our bait sites! I think the game camera might have picked up a few pictures of an animal…..I wonder which one it is?

Who left their prints behind at this site?

For December, we still have a few spots open in the 10/12 year olds classes. If you haven’t already registered, please do so soon! Registration for those classes will close on Friday, December 1st.

And I know many of you are anxiously awaiting the Spring Semester’s registration. It will open up around mid-December. PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE make sure your Membership is up to date! We will send out an email for early registration for our members, but you will only receive it if your membership is current. Not sure when your’s expires? Email our Registrar at cspade@houstonarboretum.org for help.

Questions? Comments? Contact Patti Bonnin at pbonnin@houstonarboretum.org.

Thank you, and have a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday!

Happy Fall!



Amazing Mammals!

What Makes a Mammal a Mammal?

So we all know that mammals are animals. But ladybugs, snakes, and hawks are also animals. We know all mammals are vertebrates (have a backbone). But birds and reptiles have vertebrae, too. Mammals are also warm-blooded. Oh wait, birds are also warm-blooded. So what makes a mammal unique? What are the characteristics that help us define what mammals are?

  • They are animals (clearly not a plant!)
  • They have a backbone.
  • They are warm-blooded.
  • They have a four chambered heart.
  • They have hair or fur.
  • They produce milk to feed their young using a special mammary gland.
  • All mammals (except for 2 species) give birth to live young.
  • They have a diaphragm which is a muscle between the lungs and the abdomen. The diaphragm works with your lungs to help you inhale and exhale air.

Cool Mammal Facts

There are over 5,400 species of mammals in the world! How many can you name?

Which species of mammals have the biggest population? Us! There are over 7 billion humans on earth! Whew!

When most people think of mammals, they think of 4 legged furry creatures running around. But did you know not all mammals live on land? Whales and dolphins are marine mammals that live in the ocean! Some mammals can even fly! Bats are the only mammals with the ability to take flight.

Rodents are the largest order of Mammals, with over 1,500 species identified. Some of their species include mice, rats, hamsters, beavers, squirrels, prairie dogs, and chipmunks, just to name a few. Can you guess the second largest order of mammals? Bats! There are over 1,200 species of bats.

source: wikipedia.com

The blue whale (Balaennoptera musculus) isn’t just the largest of the mammal species, it is actually the largest of any animal on Earth. It can grow up to 100 feet long and weigh as much as 300,000 pounds. They are also the loudest animals! A blue whale’s cries can be heard up to 1,000 miles away. (Watch a video about blue whales here.)

Blue whale swimming in the ocean. source: National Geographic

One of the smallest of the mammal species is the Kitti’s hog-nosed bat (Craseonycteris thonglongyai), also called the bumblebee bat due to it’s tiny size. Bumblebee bat’s bodies are usually no longer than an inch long, and weigh around 2 grams (about the same as a couple of paperclips). But don’t let their small size fool you – these guys are predators! At night, they fly around catching and eating insects mid-air. They will also consume spiders!



Pick 2 or 3 mammals to learn more about. Maybe you want to learn about a flying bat, a swimming sea otter, a tunneling prairie dog, or a pokey porcupine. National Geographic’s Mammals page is a great resource to check out. Once your research is complete, make a poster of your animal. What does it look like? Draw what type of habitat it lives in (rainforest, ocean, desert, etc). What does it eat? What are some cool facts about it?


Visit the Houston Zoo to learn more about the mammals who reside there.

Bird Behavior

There are several different ways you can identify birds. You can look at their size, shape, and colors. You can listen for their calls. You can even identify them by their behavior. For instance, a bald eagle will fly with their wings out flat while a turkey vulture will have a slight “V” shape to their wings. Some birds fly in a straight line flapping their wings constantly while other prefer to soar in circles. American goldfinches will flock together, flycatchers will dart out at insects, cardinals will feed in shrubs, and crows will mob other birds to scare them off for their potential prey.

Green heron fishing – photo credit Christine Mansfield

Birds often have their own unique ways for flying, sitting, moving, and acting. Studying these behaviors have helped scientists learn more about the different species, their migration patterns, and the changes to their ranges and habitats.

Female cardinal splashing in the bath

Below are some common behaviors you might find birds doing. Your challenge this week? Go outside and see how many different bird behaviors you can find! Then, act out as many of them as you can!

Bird Behaviors 

preening (cleaning their feathers)






calling  (sounding an alarm, looking for others, courting, calling for mom)

bathing (water baths, dust baths, ant baths, sun bathing)

feeding (foraging, hunting, drinking, dipping, scavenging)


movement (climbing, wading, swimming, hopping, running, diving)

nest building (stick nests, mud nests, cliff nests, tree cavities, rock piles, burrows)

courting (dances, displaying tail feathers, marching)


Check out these videos of different birds behaviors!

Spotted Sandpiper waggling his tail – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LqJqQjui55I

Red-capped manakin courting dance – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o42C6ajjqWg

Black capped chickadees at feeder – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SsYd5UqIGyo

Black skimmers – shore birds – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XxC6BIzAtGk

Meet Cookie!

We had a special guest this week to help us learn about birds!

Meet Cookie!

Cookie is an African grey parrot who belongs to one of our Staff Naturalists, Ms. Lois. African greys (Psittacus erithacus) are medium sized, dusty-gray looking parrots with black beaks, pale yellow eyes, and a brilliant red tail. African grey parrots are most famous for their intelligence and their talking ability. Their ability to mimic human speech makes them a favorite among avian pet owners. They are fun and gentle birds who like to have their intelligence challenged with puzzle toys and foraging.

Food: Fruit, seeds, and nuts. Cookie’s favorite treats are apples!

Life expectancy: They can live for over 50 years.  Cookie is currently 6 years old.

Range: Widely distributed across African tropical forests.

Habitat: They are found mostly in forests, along clearings or edges. They can also be found in mangrove forests, Savannah woodlands, or on offshore islands that contain oil-palm trees they like to eat.

Current Status: Listed as “Vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List due mostly to loss of habitat of nesting trees and capture for illegal pet trade.


Silly bird! Cookie likes to perch on top of the whiteboards.


About to take flight!