Aspen Grove GroceryBy Ellen Horowitz; art by Debbie Palen
From beavers and bears to birds and bugs, many animals know a good place to go food shopping when they see one.
Everybody has to eat. That’s just a fact of life. And there’s a special place where many different kinds of animals have great luck finding food. What place is it? A grove (cluster) of quaking aspen trees! Good thing quaking aspens grow far and wide—more so than any other tree in North America (see map on page 35).
At an aspen grove grocery, there are fruits and vegetables, meats and sweets, and even things to drink. Some creatures live here year round. Others stop and shop for occasional or seasonal specials.
C’mon, let’s go shopping!
There’s plenty of fresh produce in an aspen grove. Nuts, berries, greens, roots, and mushrooms attract rabbits, ground squirrels, mice, and other small mammals. These then attract predators such as wolves, bobcats, badgers, weasels, and hawks.
Some trees in an aspen grove may die after a wildfire. But their roots quickly sprout tender, new shoots. Animals such as deer, elk, moose, and rabbits love to nibble these.
Beavers stock up on aspen branches, storing them in the water outside their lodges for dining on during the winter. Woodrats stash aspen leaves and other plants in their dens for the winter, too.
Pocket gophers shop underground. Their furry cheek pouches make perfect grocery sacks for carrying bits of aspen roots. Mice and voles tunnel through snow to nibble the bark of young aspens. Snowshoe hares search for the bark, buds, and twigs of small aspens. And elk reach high up on the trunks to eat bark.
Black bears climb trees to reach plump aspen buds—and also to munch catkins, clusters of tiny flowers that hang down from branches. Ruffed grouse like buds and catkins, too. Sapsuckers tap holes in the trunk. These fill up with sweet sap, which also attracts other animals.
It’s the busy season for shoppers—especially insects! Immature leaf miner insects fit between top and bottom leaf layers. Squiggly lines show the paths they travel, chewing up itty-bitty groceries along the way. Meanwhile, caterpillars chew the leaves’ edges. Many other insects like these attract birds by day and bats at night. And, of course, beavers are hard at work, gnawing down whole trees for food and for home improvements.
Explore an Aspen Grove
Are there aspens near you? If so, go check ’em out—not for groceries, but just for fun!
- ID AN ASPEN
Look for thin, smooth, cream-colored or greenish-gray bark. The leaves are rounded with pointed tips and have ragged edges, like the teeth of a saw.
- LISTEN TO AN ASPEN
In an aspen grove on a breezy day, you can hear the leaves really flutter and flap. Even better, put your ear against a young tree and listen. With each gust of wind, you’ll hear tinkling sounds travel right down through the tree!
- LOOK FOR CRITTER CLUES
You’d be lucky to catch animals in the act of food-shopping. But even when they’re not in sight, you might find signs of their visits. Check off the signs in the list below that you find on these pages. Then look for them on some real aspen trees.
Critter Clues Checklist
- where a caterpillar nibbled
- where a leaf miner insect hatched from an egg and tunneled between the leaf’s layers
- where a sapsucker tapped holes
- where a bear left claw marks
- where an elk chewed on the bark
- where a beaver gnawed
“Aspen Grove Grocery” originally appeared in the October 2014 issue of Ranger Rick magazine.
(Click on each image above for a closer view of the story.)