One of my favorite things to do in the summer is to hike in the high country and enjoy the wildflowers. It’s like nature is celebrating summer too. And these flowers, sometimes blanketing hillsides, are absolutely brilliant. Then a closer look reveals the delicate complexity of each flower. The first in my series is called a shooting star. They are found only in areas with a lot of moisture, along streams and in watersheds.
I’ve mentioned before that I am in the middle of researching and writing a series of picture books on animal adaptations, which has been so much fun. Deciding which animals to put in each book (I only get to pick 12-13!) was difficult, but I decided to put beavers in the mammal book because I don’t think they get nearly the credit they deserve.
First of all, beavers are ecosystem engineers. The dams they build create slow-moving ponds, which helps to reduce downstream erosion. They also provide aquatic habitats for countless other species, creating highly diverse biological communities. The dams themselves are an engineering feat. Built from downed trees and limbs, the dams/lodges are water-tight – sticks, reeds, branches, and saplings woven together and “caulked” with mud. They are ventilated by a small hole in the roof called a chimney. Oftentimes the entrance to the lodge is underwater, keeping the beavers safe from predators. Beavers even cover the floor in wood shavings that absorb excess water and provide a comfy bed. They really are amazing critters. And they’re pretty cute, too.
For my last ocean blog, I wanted to end with a truly mind-blowing thought. Phytoplankton, the microscopic, plant-like cells that live in Earth’s oceans (and lakes) provide FIFTY PERCENT of the oxygen in the Earth’s atmosphere. That’s right. Even though we can’t even see them without a microscope, these minute organisms prove us with 50% of the air we breathe. Not only that, they take in carbon dioxide (this is the same process of photosynthesis that plants and trees go through). And if that isn’t enough, they also form the base of marine food chains.
Next time you are at the ocean, look at a drop of water on your skin – there will be thousands of phytoplankton in that single drop. Then, take a deep breath of air and thank these microscopic organisms!
“The oceans deserve our respect and care, but you have to know something before you can care about it.” [Sylvia Earle, American Marine Biologist]
While I have always loved the ocean, the writing and research I’ve done in the past several years has given me a new, deeper understanding and appreciation. Not only is the ocean home to countless strange and amazing creatures, but it also plays such a vital role in the health of the planet as well as in the lives of billions of people. In honor of the oceans, I highly recommend two BBC documentaries: Blue Planet, and Blue Planet II. You will not be disappointed.