What are you doing this Earth Day? Here are ten suggestions for fun ways to celebrate and explore the biological diversity of our remarkable planet. Earth Day is a time to reflect on the grandeur of Nature, the state of the environment, and ways in which we can be sure that biological diversity is sustained. It’s also a reminder we have only begun to discover and map the biosphere—the closer we look at the natural world, the more we appreciate the beauty and wonder of earth’s millions of species that call our planet home.
- Visit a Natural History Museum. Permanent exhibition halls are a fantastic way to see a cross section of biodiversity and, like a good movie, each time you see them, you discover something you didn’t see before. Pick one diorama or exhibition hall and see how many different species you can spot.
- Visit a Zoo or Botanical Garden. For friskier displays, visit your local zoo or botanical garden. Instead of a brisk walk through the whole park, pick one area of the garden or zoo and spend a few hours closely examining and comparing all the species of reptiles, mammals, azaleas, or trees. Or, become an ethologist and take notes on animal behaviors;. watch a spider spin a web or wasp build a nest, .
- Take a Hike. Depending on where you live, this can be a spectacular time to dust off your field guide to wildflowers or birds or insects and take a hike to see how many species you can identify while communing with Mother Nature.
- Learn about the Birds and Bees (and Butterflies). Strategically add plants to your garden that will attract bees and butterflies or install bird feeders, then see how many species of each you can draw to your own garden throughout the season.
- Volunteer. Share your passion for nature and volunteer at a museum, botanical garden, or not-for-profit. Help with annual bird or butterfly counts. Or, contact your state’s Fish and Game Department and see if they need volunteers to monitor water quality in lakes or creeks or rivers near you.
- Join a Club. Conservation organizations do good work and can use your support. Many clubs offer outdoor experiences, often with an expert guide, so you can access places you might not otherwise see. In addition, there are wonderful clubs focused on everything from dragonflies to snap dragons through which you can find kindred spirits to appreciate Nature.
- Visit a Park. Whether it’s a city, state or national park, get outside. Many parks have lists of their common plants and animals. Find a copy of that list and see how many species you can spot in a day. It’s a good excuse to slow down and really look at the world around you. As Yogi Berra said, “You can observe a lot by just watching.”
- Leave no stone unturned. You don’t have to go somewhere exotic to see exotic creatures. Just turn over some rocks or some decaying vegetation in your back yard or in a nearby wild area. Take a magnifying glass and look closely at anything that moves. If you’re patient, many tiny invertebrates that initially play dead will come to life. See how many different classes, orders, and families of arthropods (insects or worms or spiders or centipedes) you can identify. Find one that fascinates or disgusts you that you didn’t recognize and track it down online or in field guides to find out about its ecology. Depending on where you live, however, don’t pick them up with your bare hands since some may be poisonous!
- Start a Life List. Pick a taxonomic group you like—birds, flowers, insects, whatever—and make an Earth Day resolution to keep a life list to see how many different species of the group you can see. Or go totally all-in and start an insect collection or flowering plant herbarium of your own.
- Pre-Order What on Earth? Finally, order our book, in which we pick our 100 favorite new species discovered over the past decade, among them our choices for the prettiest, strangest, deadliest, and those with the best names. There are nearly 2 million species that have been named to date and perhaps 10 million more yet to be found. With about 18,000 species new to science each year, what you didn’t know about life on earth will amaze you.
Quentin Wheeler and Sara Pennak are both professors at Arizona State University and work at the International Institute for Species Exploration.