Heather Runyan
Rotten log at Village Creek State Park

Village Creek State Park is a 7,000-acre park located in northeast Arkansas. The park’s mission is to protect and conserve the natural, cultural, and historical resources of Crowley’s Ridge.

We have an unusual ally in protecting our natural resources: the rotten logs of the forest floor. Where many people see a rotting log as an eyesore, many creatures see it as the key to their survival. In this photo essay, we’ll take a closer look at what’s going on inside.

The remains of the root ball of a fallen tree lies at the base of a hill. The root ball has moss, mushrooms, grass, and plants growing on it.

Often when a tree falls, it exposes part of the root structure. You may or may not see a “root ball” at the end of a rotting log, with soil and various plant and animal species attached.

A tan millipede, about two inches long, crawls across a piece of rotting wood.

One way rotten logs help creatures survive is by providing homes. Millipedes need cool, dark places to live. Since moisture builds up in the soil under a rotten log, a micro-habitat is formed that keeps them from getting too cold or too hot. The log also blocks the sun. These two things together make it a great place for them to live.

Ant adults, larvae, and eggs found under bark on a fallen log.

Although many ant species live in the soil, carpenter ants will make their nests by creating tunnels in dead or dying wood. Many of the dead logs in the park house Pennsylvania carpenter ant colonies, like the one in the picture. These nests serve as shelter for not just the adult ants, but also the eggs and larvae. Ants are a food source for numerous other larger animal species and are an important part of nature’s web of life.

A slug with mottled grey and brown coloring crawls inside a rotted section of a tree.

Unlike us, slugs only have one layer of skin. This means that they can easily dehydrate by losing too much water through their skin. To prevent that, they look for moist places to hide when it starts to get hot and dry outside. One of the places they often hide is under a rotten log.

Two termites can be seen looking out from a small hole in a rotten log.

Rotten logs also help creatures survive by providing food. Termites are something you certainly don’t want in your home, but in the woods, they serve an important purpose: They eat decaying wood. This leaves holes that can help the log break down and become food for other creatures faster.

A longhorn beetle sits on a closed tulip poplar pod.

The larvae of some beetle species, like the longhorn beetle, feed on decaying wood. In some species, the larvae eat soft decayed wood.

A bess beetle walks across bark covered by moss.

In other species, like the bess beetle, the parents chew the wood to make it soft enough for the larvae to eat.

A red worm crawling through wet soil and leaf litter.

Worms are different from many of the other creatures that use rotten logs for food. They don’t have teeth, so they eat the parts of the wood that bacteria, mold, and fungi have already started to break down. Worms’ poop, called castings, are very good fertilizers and help new things grow around the log.

A wolf spider sits on a piece of wood.

Some creatures eat the other creatures that are attracted to rotting logs. Several types of spiders will make webs on, or close to, a rotten log to catch insects that are going to the log for food or shelter. Other spiders, like this wolf spider, don’t build webs. Instead, they wander near the log in hopes of crossing paths with an unlucky log resident.

A toad sits partially on the ground and partially on a stick.

Many of the creatures found around a rotten log use it for both home and food. Toads are a good example. They need areas that are a little wet. They also need plenty of bugs to eat. The moisture found under rotten logs combined with the large number of bugs that gather there for food and shelter makes these logs a great place for the park’s many toads.

As you can see, rotten logs create their own small worlds by providing creatures with homes and food. Because of this, even though they may not look great to us, they are filled with natural activity inside and can be the key to survival for many species in the park.

The tricky part is that these worlds are easily destroyed when people move logs. Moving a log even an inch or two can destroy the moist environment under it. This leaves some creatures without a home or food until a new microhabitat can form. So, when you visit Village Creek State Park, take the time to enjoy the unique landscape created by the rotten logs, but please don’t move them.

Visit our park webpage to plan your next visit to the park – whether it’s a day trip for a hike and picnic, or overnight camping or cabin stay, you will find plenty of nature’s beauty to explore here.