Oceans, Part 3

“In every curving beach, in every grain of sand, there is a story of the Earth.”       [Rachel Carson]

Whenever I get the chance to go snorkeling, I’m always happy to see parrotfish. I’m not sure why I like them so much. Maybe it’s because they always look like they are smiling. Or that you can see their perfect teeth (which form a parrot-like beak). Or how colorful some of them are.

Recently I learned an especially cool fact about parrotfish – they poop sand. Like many people I’d always thought that sand was the byproduct of hundreds of years of erosion and the weathering of rocks. That is still true. But there’s more to the story. On some beaches around the world, the sand is the byproduct of parrotfish. Here’s how it works. Parrotfish scrape off coral with their beaks. The soft tissues of polyps, bacteria, and algae are absorbed. The hard calcium carbonate skeleton of the coral, however, is processed and pooped out as sand! A large parrotfish can produce hundreds of pounds of sand a year. I will never look at sand or parrotfish the same.

Oceans, Part 2

I’m in the middle of researching and writing a series of nonfiction picture books (for Nomad Press) about animal adaptations. One of those includes a book about fish. I honestly never had too much of an appreciation for fish that weren’t tropical fish until now. Fish actually come in all kinds of shapes and sizes with a myriad of bizarre adaptations.

In honor of Father’s Day, I present one of my favorites: the leafy sea dragon. They are peculiar and beautiful and wonderfully camouflaged. And, like seahorses (they are different species but are in the same family), the male sea dragon is responsible for taking care of the eggs (up to 300 of them!). He broods the eggs in a special pouch under his tail for about 6 weeks. That’s some kind of daddy daycare. Kind of makes you wonder where the mom goes…

Oceans, Part 1

I saw whales. Lots of them. In real life. And it was awesome.

While I am definitely a mountain girl, I do love the ocean and had the privilege of spending the past week on the Atlantic. One night, about a half hour before sunset, we looked out across the vast expanse of sea and saw a spout of water. Then another. And another and another and another. There were well over a dozen whales right there. As the falling, orange sun shined on the water, and the spouts and flukes of the whales rose above the surface, it was nothing short of magical.

June 8 was World Oceans Day. So in honor of the oceans and the whales that I saw, my next few posts will be about the marvels of Earth’s oceans. Stay tuned…

Shoebill Stork

Writing about animal adaptations is fun. I’m not talking about giraffe’s long neck (to help it reach leaves on the tallest trees) or a woodpecker’s beak (perfect for tap, tap, tapping into the bark of trees to find insects). No. I am talking about all of the CRAZY adaptations out there that get so little press.

Take, for example, the shoebill stork. It has a big powerful beak. It can move stealthily through the swamps of eastern tropical Africa. But those are not its most interesting adaptations. The one that takes the cake is the fact that the birds poo on their legs to help them cool down. You read that correctly. Vultures do this too. Wow. Biodiversity is so cool.