Natural Explorations
Educational Programs and Happenings!
Public Education Programs
Let’s Make Maple Syrup!
The forests that are part of the Environmental Study Area have been the site for making maple syrup for at least the past 100 years. Join us as we continue the fun and flavor of this tradition by tapping the trees and turning sap into syrup.  
Public Tree Tapping
Saturday, February 15
1:00-3:00 PM

Before we can make syrup, we need to put tap holes into the maple trees. On our walk to the trees to be tapped, we’ll explore how to identify the proper trees for tapping. Then we’ll put tap holes in some trees using hand-powered augers, and hang out the sap collecting buckets. Everybody gets a turn. All ages welcome. Dress for potentially icy, muddy, or snowy conditions. 
Public Maple Syrup Tour
Saturday, March 7
1:00-2:30 PM

Enjoy a leisurely-paced walk to the tapped maple trees. We’ll conclude our trek with a visit to the sap stove, where you’ll see a demonstration of how sap is turned into delicious maple syrup. Everyone on hand will be offered a taste sample of fresh UM-Dearborn maple syrup from this season. Our walk will also take in the sights and sounds of nature as winter slowly gives way to spring. Dress appropriately for weather and field conditions. All ages welcome. 
Volunteers Needed for Daily Maple Tree Sap Collection
A great way to get active outside during a special time of year!

Volunteer to collect the Maple Tree sap so we can boil it down to make Maple Syrup.
We need to go out and collect maple sap each day weather conditions bring about a sap run. That means lots of helping hands are needed for this pleasant task. We meet at 4 PM on days we go out to collect the sap, and are usually out in the field until about 5:30 PM.
To find out if sap collecting volunteers are needed on any given day, please call the Center’s sap collecting hotline at 2 PM the same day. Also, if you can arrange to come out specific days of the week in advance, please contact Center naturalist Rick Simek at (313) 583-6371. Rick will put you on a schedule of days and contact you each of those days to give you the status of the sap run. We plan to collect sap any day of the week between February 20 and March 20, as conditions allow.
Individuals and small groups are welcome to help. Sap collecting volunteers are required to be at least 7 years of age. Maximum group size is 6 people.  
Who Speaks For The Trees?
Saturday, April 25, 10:00 AM-12:00

In celebration of the 50th anniversary of Earth Day (April 22, 1970) and National Arbor Day (April 24), enjoy a guided walk through the forests of the Environmental Study Area, both young and old, while learning which trees live where and why. To conclude our time, plant your own "future" Red Oak tree to take home with you. (Quantities limited; Lorax approved.) "Mighty oaks from little acorns grow."   
Eagle Scout Project Creates Much-Needed Compost Space and Function

The UM-D Community Organic Garden (COG) recently got a major boost! Local Boy Scout Andrew Montierth capably headed up the design, construction, and placement of 5 large composting bins for the space. Andrew and his crew of volunteers from Boy Scout Troop 1155 built and installed the bins last fall. Prior to Andrew’s project, the compost bins at the COG had been overloaded to the point of becoming non-functional. The project adds a great deal of new capacity for large amount of compostable organic material at the site, and that’s good news for the COG! Andrew also developed and put up instructional signs that describe how to utilize the bins as part of a composting system.
We greatly appreciate Andrew’s thoughtful and timely help in advancing the functionality of the COG, and congratulate him on a well-earned rank of Eagle Scout!

Andrew Montierth (above left) coordinating the construction of his compost bins.

Five bins completed (above right) and ready to be moved to the Community Garden.
UM-Dearborn Receives Bee Campus USA Certification!

The University of Michigan-Dearborn has become the first public university in Michigan to be certified as an affiliate of Bee Campus USA , a program designed to marshal the strengths of educational campuses for the benefit of pollinators. Bee City and Bee Campus USA are initiatives of the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, a science-based, nonprofit environmental organization that promotes the protection and conservation of invertebrates and the habitats that support them. Over the past year, staff from the EIC have spearheaded efforts to have the university recognized for its commitment to fostering pollinator education and conservation in a myriad of ways, including:

  • Multiple academic courses that address pollinators and the ecosystem services they provide.
  • Community education and outreach (K-12 educational programs on the environment provided by the EIC include Young Naturalists, Pollination Partnerships, and Understanding Insect and Spiders.)
  • A campus urban apiary (beeyard) where best practices for pesticide-free beekeeping in urban and per-urban environments are assessed.
  • A campus pollinator garden where native perennial host and nectar plants provide nesting and food resources for local pollinators.
  • The EIC’s rain gardens are recognized as a certified Monarch Waystation through Monarch Watch, a non-profit educational outreach program in support of monarch conservation in the United State and Canada.
  • Research projects, such as the EIC's PolliNation Project; this student-led project aims to design, install, and monitor insect hotels (habitats for beneficial pollinators) to promote pollinator education and conservation at Dearborn Public Schools, as well as at residential and public spaces in Dearborn and the metropolitan Detroit area in partnership with Healthy Dearborn.
UM-Dearborn Chancellor Grasso is given the Block M insect hotel by PolliNation Project Coordinator, Kaitlyn Tatro, Faculty Advisor Dr. David Susko and student volunteer.
On November 19, 2019, UM-Dearborn was officially certified as the 84 th institution in the nation as a Bee Campus USA affiliate. Over the coming months, the EIC will be expanding initiatives across campus to help local pollinators.  - David Susko
EIC PolliNation Program to Assist Local Pollinators

Our pollinators are disappearing. Habitat loss, pesticides, and “food deserts” created by urban lawns and non-native plantings are some of the causes for massive declines in insect populations around the globe. Many are unaware of how much we rely on them; more than 90% of Earth’s plants depend on animal-aided pollination. Every time you take a bite out of an apple or enjoy a handful of almonds, there is a pollinator to thank. If pollinator populations continue to decline, the impacts will ripple throughout the food chain. As Alexander von Humboldt said, “Everything is interconnected.”
There came a point in my education where I was no longer satisfied with just nodding along that something needs to change. Nothing will change unless you throw yourself behind it. This is how the PolliNation Project came to fruition. What started as an idea has earned the University of Michigan-Dearborn Bee Campus USA certification and matured into a $25,000 citizen-science project funded by the Ford Motor Company Fund. The PolliNation Project’s goal is to educate the community on issues surrounding pollinators and provide habitat for cavity-nesting bees. Cavity-nesting bees comprise about 30% of Michigan bee species. They are solitary species that make nests in hollow plant stems or holes in wood left by other insects. The PolliNation Project will build and distribute approximately 200 hand-made insect hotels to the community to provide nesting sites for these bee species.
Insect hotels are simply the bird-houses of the insect world. They are easy to assemble and filled with all-natural materials such as hollow plant stems, bamboo, blocks of wood with drilled holes, pinecones, bark, and more.
As the creator and coordinator of this project, I can say that it is a constant learning experience. It was just an idea at first. I never imagined it would generate this much interest or excitement in our community. It became one of 10 projects to receive funding through the Ford College Community Challenge Grant. It helped UMD become the first public university in Michigan to achieve Bee Campus USA certification. It has inspired community members to rethink their gardens and even try building their own insect hotels (with a little bit of guidance).
This has been the most important lesson for me and could be for you as well––a lot of people want to help the world (and the bees!); they’re just waiting for someone to be the start of change. You can be that change. You just have to look yourself in the mirror and ask, “ why can’t I be that start? ” - Kaitlyn Tatro

Editor’s Note: UM-D student Kaitlyn Tatro is the coordinator for this exciting new project at the Center. Stay tuned for more developments! 
Spring Awakenings
As we enter spring, maybe you’re enjoying the long-awaited blooms of color bursting from the bulbs in your garden. They spent the winter, nestled under the soil just waiting for the longer daylight hours and warmer temperatures.  American Toads were waiting, too. Toads and other amphibians are known to dig down under the soil to escape winter frost. Even while hibernating, radio-tagged toads in Minnesota were found to keep digging under the soil throughout the winter, some at depths of four feet or deeper, just barely ahead of the frost line in temperatures of 1-2 degrees C. Warmer spring temperatures trigger both flower bulbs and toads to awaken from dormancy.          
Think back a few months…how many times this winter did you exclaim, “I’m FREEZING!” Just an expression for most of us, but in the natural world there are plants and animals that truly freeze—and survive! For example, the larvae of long-horned and bark beetles. Adult beetles lay their eggs just under the bark of trees. Upon hatching, the larvae bore deeper into the solid wood of the tree trunk. Beetles found inside trees are able to manufacture natural antifreeze inside their bodies so, although they freeze, they don’t freeze solid . This is a one time only offer, however. These insects are only able to produce antifreeze once in a season. If they thaw out and encounter freezing temperatures again, they are unable to reproduce antifreeze and will indeed freeze solid.
How do scientists know this? They’ve tested (and tasted) freezing and thawing insects. The natural antifreeze produced internally has a sweet taste, like the toxic antifreeze we pour into our automobiles, because it is made of glycogen, the short-term storage form of glucose, or sugar. Insects protected by antifreeze taste sweet; those without antifreeze taste nutty.  Remember—these are professionals. Don’t try this at home!
Insects aren’t the only animals that produce antifreeze. Some fish and amphibians do it, too. Deep-sea polar fish produce glycoproteins, a form of antifreeze that allows the freezing process to begin, but interrupts the formation of large ice crystals, which would damage cellular tissues. 
  One of the most amazing demonstrations of freezing and thawing is the wood frog. Rather than burrowing deep into the soil, like toads, or under the mud in lakes, like turtles and other frog species, wood frogs seek cover under a thin blanket of leaves on the forest floor. They store large amounts of glycogen in their livers until they’re about to freeze. When ice crystals start to form in the frog’s feet in the space between the cells, the liver floods the blood with glucose, which is packed into the cells. The blood level glucose rises from 0.00004 grams per milliliter up to over 1,000. People would die at 400-500! Water between the cells freezes, but water trapped inside the cells is too saturated with sugar to freeze: the inside of the cell is protected with antifreeze. When the frog thaws out, glucose is transported back to the liver and used for other body processes. Should temperatures drop again, the liver will pump it back to the cells, in contrast to the less fortunate beetle larvae. This process allows the wood frog, unlike most frogs, to actually let its body temperature drop below freezing, becoming a real-life “Frogsicle.”
The reawakening of life, once frozen in time, signals the coming of spring. The trilling of toads and calling of frogs in vernal ponds is a sure sign that we are shedding winter’s skin. To witness these re-awakenings, go outside, look around, and listen. To “hear” more about frog and toad songs, go to the Friends of the Rouge (FOTR) website ( ) frog and toad survey page, where you’ll find information about the local species, listen to their calls, and learn more about joining FOTR for their Frog and Toad Survey!
                                                                       -Dorothy McLeer