Winter Ecology and Grumphet Shelter Building

By Alana Murray, Senior Naturalist

Sitting inside on a cold winter day with a cozy blanket, some hot chocolate, and a fire blazing is the only way to spend winter. This mentality seems to be common among many people during this time of the year. However, here at the Dunes Learning Center, every day is a great day to be outside! During the winter, students come to campus for a unique outdoor experience and learn about the different ways animals survive the harsh conditions of winter. Winter provides many obstacles for animals trying to find food, water, and warmth. Students learn first-hand the specific adaptations animals possess to combat these obstacles.

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For example, one of the student activities is caring for our grumphets. Grumphets are tiny little organisms that “grow” only at Dunes Learning Center. These organisms live in test tubes full of water and enjoy staying warm. Students are tasked with the challenge of building a shelter to keep these tiny creatures at a temperature warm enough for them to stay happy. Using sticks, leaves, pine needles and a lot of imagination, students dig into their creative sides and construct homes for their grumphets.

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The goal is to keep the grumphets warmer than the one left out in the snow without a shelter. Many students come up with creative ways to keep their grumphets warm. Digging holes in the ground, using already existing structures, or imitating bird nests are some ways students have constructed shelters. Many like to imagine different rooms in their shelters, speculating that their grumphets would enjoy a living room, a large dining room, or even a nice blanket for their bedroom.

There is no limit and no wrong way to go about it, but each naturalist tries to remind the students what elements the grumphets need protection from such as the rain, wind, and snow. Students become extremely invested in learning the outcomes of everyone’s shelter and who was able to keep their grumphet the warmest. After determining the success of everyone’s shelters, students discuss the different ways that their shelters can trap heat to keep their grumphets happy. As a group, they brainstorm ways their shelters could better keep their grumphets warm and how animals in the dunes might build their own shelters to keep warm. Learning about animals in winter teaches students that there is still lots of activity, even during the cold seasons. Even though it is cold, life does not stop here in the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore!

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Alana Murray

Senior Naturalist