Across the West male sage-grouse are strutting their stuff hoping for the opportunity to mate. And it is quite a spectacle to behold. Male sage grouse gulp a gallon of air and hold it in a pouch in their esophagus. Once puffed up, they squeeze out the air with force. This creates a burbling, popping, swishing sound meant to attract females as the male strut around the “dance floor.” Among the several dozen males performing, only a lucky few are chosen to mate.
These courtship gatherings are called leks. This system of breeding in which males gather to perform courtship displays, is called lekking. Sage-grouse have been lekking for 25 million years!
I’ve devoted this blog to celebrating nature and the environment, but today I’m going to digress for a different kind of celebration: the debut of my picture book, The Fort (Page Street Kids)! It is certainly an unusual time to launch a book into the world. Yet despite all that is (and isn’t) going on right now, the book is here!
This journey started back in 2007 when I wrote the first draft. And let me tell you, there have been A LOT of drafts in between. Obviously I didn’t work on it all the time. The story spent months without any attention at all. Then I’d pull it out, revise and submit it to editors and agents. I got a few nibbles, but no contracts. This cycle repeated many times. Yet from the very first draft, I believed in the story and didn’t give up on it; and despite the countless revisions, the heart of the story remains the same. It was finally picked up by Courtney Burke at Page Street Kids in 2018, as a result of a #PitMad Twitter event (hooray – they really work!). Then Adelina Lirius brought the story to life in a way I never could have anticipated.
And so, on April 21, 2020, The Fort enters the world.
What else do you have going on tomorrow, April 14? Celebrate dolphins! One of my favorite things to do is to sit on the beach with my aunt and watch the dolphins. Better yet, when possible, we love to take a boat tour see them up close playing in the waves made by the boat. I’m usually watching bottlenose dolphins, but there are over three dozen different species; most live in the ocean, but there are also several species of river dolphins (including the Amazon River dolphins, called “botos,” that turn pink as they age!).
Dolphins are cetaceans (marine mammals) and are part of the group of toothed whales that includes belugas, porpoises, narwhals, and orcas. They are among Earth’s most social and intelligent mammals – they even have emotional similarities to humans. In addition to their playful nature, dolphins utilize coordinated hunting strategies to corral fish like cowboys on a roundup. They also use echolocation to hunt. They communicate with each other with a wide variety of clicks, grunts, whistles, squeaks, and whines.
Pro tip: Need help telling dolphins and porpoises apart? The easiest way to tell them apart is to look at their faces; dolphins have a long, pointed snout, while a porpoise’s face is rounded.
Because we all need a diversion now, I’m going to talk about sea cucumber poo. An unlikely topic, for sure, but quite fascinating! Sea cucumbers are, in and of themselves, interesting creatures. Unbelievably, there are over 1,200 species of them living on the sea floor, in a variety of sizes (from less than an inch long to up 6 feet!). All of them look like squishy blobs with various interesting markings.
Yet they are so much more than blobbish, marine invertebrates. They, and their poo, are extremely important to their ecosystem. When a sea cucumber eats, using tentacles to shovel food into its mouth, it digests the organic material. Everything else, including sand that was inadvertently ingested, comes out the other end. And what comes out is actually cleaner than before it went in. This, in turn, prevents algal blooms and aids in the growth of sea grass. Sea cucumber poo even helps coral reefs! The alkalinity of the waste acts as a defense against ocean acidification while at the same time acting as a fertilizer to promote coral growth.