The third of the five books in the adaptations picture book series is about amphibians – Sunscreen, Frogsicles, and Other Amazing Amphibian Adaptations (Nomad Press, August 2020; illustrated by Katie Mazeika). Amphibians are the evolutionary link between fish and land-dwelling critters. And they are a strange lot.
One of my favorites is the Emei mustache toad. During mating season, the male toads grow a mustache. Mind you, they aren’t hairy mustaches. Theirs are made of spikes – 10-16 spikes made of keratin (like our fingernails). It gets better. They use these to have mustache fights! True fact. The males fight for the best nesting spot in the water that will attract females. They use those mustaches to stab their rivals and defend their spot. Eventually a female will show up, deposit eggs for the male to fertilize and tend to, and hop back into the woods. The males hang around caring for the eggs. Their spikes fall off. Once the eggs hatch, the males too head for the woods. And when mating season comes around again, they’ll be wielding an all-new mustache.
Today’s adaptations book cover reveal is for the bird book – Spit Nests, Puke Power, and Other Brilliant Bird Adaptations (Nomad Press, August 2020). I love birds, but researching this book made me appreciate them even more.
I have always found hummingbirds especially fascinating. Yet my research uncovered new findings about how hummingbirds feed that made me go WHOA. Obviously their long, thin beak allows them to get inside a flower to reach the nectar. They also have a long, thin tongue. Yet it doesn’t work like a straw. Instead, they use the tongue to lap up the nectar, as much as 20 times per second! Researchers used a “glass” flower filled with nectar so they could film the feeding in slow motion. The results are incredible.
Last year I was given the incredible honor of writing a series of five nonfiction picture books for Nomad Press about animal adaptations (they will be published in August 2020). I knew right away that I wanted to go beyond the simple adaptations we think of right away – cheetahs are super-fast so they can hunt down a meal and turtles have a hard shell to protect themselves. I wanted to find and write about the little-known adaptations that make people go, “Whoa!” Researching and writing these books was SO MUCH FUN.
The education market doesn’t generally make a big deal out of cover reveals. But, the covers of these books (thank you Katie Mazeika!) are brilliant. So I am going to throw myself, and these books, a little cover reveal party over the next five weeks. Today, it’s the mammal book: Stink Fights, Earwax, and Other Marvelous Mammal Adaptations. Ta da!
In this adorable book there are many mammals with marvelous adaptations, including the giant anteater. So these animals, which can be as large as golden retriever, have that long snout. That snout houses a long tongue. TWO FEET long to be more accurate. Oh, it gets better. The tongue is like a long strand of spaghetti and is covered in sticky saliva small, backward-pointing spines to help the anteater better slurp up termites or ants (once they’ve used their long, sharp claws to tear open a mound). They can flick that tongue in and out up to 150 times PER MINUTE. They don’t even chew. They just swallow – up to 30,000 insects in a day. D-lish!
On a Colorado-clear-blue-sky day, on one of those magical mornings blanketed in new snow, I go exploring, high in the mountains.
At first the forest seems quiet when there’s snow – it’s still. Almost like everything has stopped to sleep until spring. And yet…there’s the soft trickle of water below the ice on the creek. The solitary call of a bird. The rustle of the breeze through the treetops. And crisscrossing the new snow are tracks – the echo of critters who have recently passed by. Moose. Elk. Squirrel. Rabbit. Mouse. I saw their fresh tracks. But I didn’t see them. Perhaps they saw me.