Go outside, find a tree. Lie down beside it or climb up to perch on a sturdy branch. Relax, stay quiet, and look around. You might be surprised at what you see. A tree is more than roots, trunk, branches, and leaves. In many ways, a tree is like an apartment building—home for many creatures.

Birds and squirrels build nests on branches or inside holes. You might spot a treefrog hidden among leaves. Ants and spiders scurry over the bark, and beetles burrow into the wood. Mushrooms sprout from crevices.

As the sun goes down, a whole new crew of critters emerges. A raccoon or an opossum might climb out of a tree-hole den to find fruit and insects to eat. Bats skim over the treetop, catching moths and mosquitoes. An owl lands silently on a branch to watch for a mouse on the ground.

All these living things form a natural community. The tree is part of their habitat. A habitat may be as small as a single tree or as big as a forest. The members of a community depend on their habitat for food, water, shelter, and other natural resources.

Each kind, or species, of living thing fits into a different role or niche in its community. The niche of an animal includes what it eats and when it is active, where it sleeps and raises young, and much more.

This story looks at the niches of squirrels, woodpeckers, and monarch butterflies in Minnesota.

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