So many amazing animals!
Many different creatures call the Children of Indiana Nature Park home. Let’s explore what can be found in the area and what makes these critters unique. We’ll periodically rotate this list so there will always be someone new to learn about!
Commonly known as the North American opossum, this is the only marsupial found in North America outside of Mexico. These “possums” as they are also called are solitary creatures that are active at night (nocturnal).
With whitish-gray fur, and bare ears and tail, they might not look very friendly. They would rather be left alone than bothered and can become aggressive when provoked. Their tail is prehensile, which means it can grab onto branches and opossums can be seen hanging from branches by their tail. Female opossums have a pouch, which they use to carry their young after they are born.
Opossums are born very quickly and are about the size of a honey bee at birth. The pouch keeps them safe until they are old enough to ride on their mother’s back and eventually take off on their own.
Opossums communicate by making clicking sounds. It is usually males threatening one another or a mother calling to her young. They are omnivores and eat a variety of foods including fruit, insects, mice, and grains. Persimmons are some of their favorite foods making Indiana exciting for opossums in the fall. They do not hibernate but will take shelter during cold spells.
Also known as big stoat, the long-tailed weasel is found from southern Canada to northern South America. It is one of the largest weasels reaching 12 to 14 inches with its tail making up around half of its length. Tails have a black tip even in the winter when their fur is white instead of cinnamon brown color they have the summer. Females are usually smaller than males.
These animals do not usually burrow but live in dens in the ground or under rock piles or stumps. However, they are quick to take over abandoned burrows of rodents or other animals smaller than them thanks to their long slender bodies. Long-tailed weasels can be found in a variety of habitats including crop fields or small wooded areas near humans.
However, they are not commonly found in densely forested areas. These creatures are fearless and voracious hunters and will go after preys larger than themselves including rabbits. They also eat shrews, earthworms, and even bird eggs.
They are able to hunt by picking up on the scent or sound of their prey and are most active during the night. If they find a good amount of food, they are known to kill groups of other animals and store food for a time before eating it. Long tailed-weasels are said to be noisy animals even though they are solitary and usually make sounds only in response to being disturbed in some way.
Midland Painted Turtle
Midland painted turtles are some of the most abundant and easily recognizable turtles in Indiana. Their deep green carapace is patterned brightly with red and black along their underside. These creatures get their name because these patterns look like they were painted on by hand.
They prefer to be in slow-moving and calm shallow fresh water and love to bask in the sun and can be seen in large numbers sunning themselves on the logs and land along the water throughout the summer. Once winter begins to set in, the painted turtles will burrow into the mud at the bottom of lakes and ponds. During this time, the turtles absorb oxygen through the inner lining of their mouths. Midland painted turtles will feed on plants, fish, as well as aquatic insects.
When the turtles lay eggs, the sex is yet to be determined. Warmer eggs tend to hatch females while cooler eggs hatch males.
A common small songbird is the white-breasted nuthatch. This bird has a stocky build with a large head, short tail, and has strong beaks and feet colored white on the throat and belly, black on top of the head, and bluish-gray on their backs. Wings are gray with black and white markings. White-breasted nuthatch males have a rust color on the lower part of their belly.
They are foragers on the lookout for insects on tree trunks and branches. During the winter when food is scarce, they will eat acorns and hickory nuts they stored in the fall. Nests are built in tree holes and during breeding times, white-breasted nuthatches will sometimes smear insects around the entrance to keep squirrels from entering their nests.
These agile birds can creep along the trunks of trees and large branches while probing into bark with their bills. White-breasted nuthatches, like other nuthatches often turn sideways and upside down on vertical surfaces while they are foraging. In the winter, these birds forage in flocks with Carolina chickadees or tufted titmice.
Let’s talk about plants!
The park is home to a variety of plants. Some belong here (they’re called native plants) and some do not belong here (they're called invasive plants). We’ll explore both native and common invasive plants here, sharing a little about each one to help you learn about what grows on your land. We will periodically update this list, so be sure to come back so you can become a native plant expert!
Native: Woolly Blue Violet (Viola sororia)
This plant has many common names such as common blue violet, purple violet, and common meadow violet. Historically, the plant now often found in lawns and gardens was found in forests and prairies and was used for food and medicine. Both the flowers and stems are edible and have been used to remedy coughs, sore throats, and headaches. Woolly blue violets typically grow to be six inches across and four inches tall. The flowers rise slightly above the leaves. These plants tend to grow in colonies so where you find one, you usually find many. The flowers and young leaves of this plant are edible, but without certain identification and permission, it is not recommended to eat.
Native: Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia
Virginia Creeper is a climbing vine native to eastern and central North America. Part of the grape family, this flowering plant produces small hard dark purple berries which provide food for birds during the winter but are poisonous to humans. It is often confused with poison ivy, but Virginia Creeper has five leaves instead of three as poison ivy does. The leaves are comprised of five leaflets joined at the center on the leafstalk. They can range in size from one inch to eight inches and are “toothed” or serrated on the edges. It can grow on trees or the sides of structures as well as along the ground. It will grow anywhere from forests to fields and gardens or along stream and river banks. They produce tiny yellow-green flowers June – August. Many caterpillars rely on Virginia Creeper for food, eating the plant’s leaves. It also provides cover for small animals and is a good native alternative to plant in gardens.
Invasive: Amur Honeysuckle (Lonicera maackii)
Amur honeysuckle comes from Asia and was introduced to the U.S. for use in landscaping. It is considered one of the most damaging invasive species in Indiana. Amur Honeysuckle grows well in shady areas and produces flowers that can be white, yellow, or light orange. In the fall, birds can be found eating the red berries of the plant, which is how this invasive shrub then spreads. It reduces the growth of trees, decreases the wildflowers in the forest understory, reduces songbird reproduction, and increases tick-related illnesses where it grows. For landscaping and gardens, it is important to plant native species.
Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata)
Native to Europe, parts of Asia and Africa, this invasive species has caused great damage to forests throughout Indiana and North America. It reduces wildflower diversity, slows tree growth, and harms native butterflies. Garlic mustard plants have triangle or heart-shaped leaves that are coarsely toothed around the edges. The small four-petaled white flowers, which bloom in spring, grow in clusters at the top of the plant. One way to get rid of this invasive is to pull it out with the root attached, and it’s one saving grace is that you can eat the flowers and leaves in salads and other dishes. When choosing plants for landscaping or gardening, choose native plant species.
Caring for the Land
On this page we feature stories about how people work to keep native habitats healthy and wild, by caring for our lands and waters.
Boy Scouts of America’s Carmel Pack 132 removing invasives at Bitternut Woods.
Scouts Make a Difference at Hamilton County Nature Preserve
In these stressful and anxious times, many folks—be it from walking through their backyard or looking out their window—turn to nature to provide solace and a bit of calm.
But who does Mother Nature turn to when she needs a little help? At a nature preserve in Hamilton County last fall, she got plenty of help from the Boy Scouts of America’s Carmel Pack 132 .
Read the rest of the story!
A Natural Park
NOPE, you won’t find slides and swings at the Children of Indiana Nature Park (Park), but you WILL find trees, insects, signs of critters, and life around every corner. This land was deeded to all of the children in Indiana because we think YOU ARE IMPORTANT and because PROTECTING NATURE MATTERS! As you explore the land, you will learn about ways we are changing the property to make your land as healthy as possible!
My Spot Now
Depending where your deed is located, your spot may be in a hay pasture or your spot may be in a wooded area. The Park is mostly flat with a ravine running north-south through the center of the Park. The eastern part of the Park is largely an old white pine plantation where the trees were harvested for building materials. The western part of the Park is a hay pasture that is bordered on the east by hardwood forest that generally follows the ravine. There are mowed trails throughout the property for people to walk. In time, this area will be restored to its natural state as it was before the hay pastures and the pine plantation.
Making the Park Healthier
In the future, the Children of Indiana Nature Park will look more like it should with native plants and animals, thanks to the great care that many children gave to the land, and all deeds to the Park will be located in hardwood forest habitat. The Park will be a native hardwood forest with a diverse understory of native plants, and will reflect the natural features of the Central Tillplain region. The Park will look as settlers may have found the land in the area in the mid 1800's. A new trail system will also allow easy access throughout the Park.
Caring for My Land
What people do on the land affects the plants and animals that live there - sometimes good, sometimes not-so-good. People who care for the land and the creatures that live on the land are called conservationists. At the Children of Indiana Nature Park, we are planning conservation activities that will maximize the number of native plants and animals that call the Park “home.” Read about some of the big changes
occuring at the Park!