Introducing: Naturalist Notebook Blog Series by “Mr. Bill”

Hello. I’m Mr. Bill from the Education Department at the Tennessee Aquarium. I take many interesting animals from all over the world to school classrooms. You may have met me at your school or local library.

Now things have changed. Because of the coronavirus and the need for “social distancing,” the Aquarium, schools, and many businesses are closed. 

I love to teach people about animals, but the animals I normally use are at the Aquarium. I’m at my home and you are at your home. 

I had this idea. Join me for a type of treasure hunt for animals and plants around my house.  It will be fun, and while I meet some of my neighbors, I want you to learn how to find creatures and plants that live VERY close to you. 

Every animal lives somewhere. The place it lives is called a habitat. A habitat needs to provide food, water, shelter and a place to raise young. Your yard might contain many habitats where animals can live!

Do you have old leaves that have piled up in a corner of your yard? They could be a habitat!

I was raking a pile of old leaves the other day only 25 feet from my house. I saw something small and slender wiggling through the leaves. And no, it wasn’t a snake. (Kids think Mr. Bill always has a snake.) 


I carefully moved a leaf it was hiding under and took several cell phone pictures. Have you ever taken a picture with a cell phone? I use mine all the time to take photos of small creatures, and the results are often great. Maybe your mom or dad would let you practice with their phone.

It was a small brown, long-tailed lizard about 4 inches long with a black stripe down each side.

I had never seen one before, so now it was Google time! I discovered it is called a Little Brown Skink or a Ground Skink. It is related to the Five-lined Skink, which has a bright blue tail when it is young. You might have seen one of them crawling up a wall. I learned the Ground Skink rarely crawls up walls. It lives in the leaf litter and has the amazing ability to “swim” through the leaves to escape danger. It eats small insects and worms. Hello new neighbor!


I’ve always liked to pick up rocks to see what might live underneath. The undersides of rocks make great habitats! It is cool, moist and an excellent hiding place. Always make sure to put the rock back exactly where it was. You wouldn’t like a giant to pull your roof off and destroy your home! 

Here is a word to the wise. Be very careful. I lifted a large rock recently and a venomous female Black Widow spider was on the underside! She was not aggressive, but I wouldn’t want to put my hand on her and risk getting bitten. Never put your hand under a rock without looking first.

slimy salamander

Early this morning I picked up a rock right beside my porch. A little creature was living underneath. It looked a little like a black lizard, but it had no scales like a reptile. It was very smooth and shiny and had hundreds of tiny white spots. I was lucky again, as it sat still for cell phone photos. This time I recognized an old friend, an amphibian called a Slimy Salamander. Guess how it got that name? That’s right. If another animal picks it up in it’s mouth, it would be very slimy and bad tasting. It needs a very moist habitat to keep it’s skin wet.

Stay tuned soon to see a sure sign of spring I found in a tree.  

If you find something neat, let me know.

Keep looking,

Mr. Bill

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