Creature Feature #3: Waxy Monkey Tree Frog

Sunscreen, Frogsicles, and Other Amazing Amphibian Adaptations (Nomad Press, August 2020), book 3 in the picture book science series, features the bizarre adaptations of amphibians. Like with the other books, it was difficult to decide which amphibians to include because there were so many amphibian adaptations that amazed me (and also quite a few that are truly gross).

Among those that made it into the book is the waxy monkey tree frog. These large frogs live in the treetops of dry South American forests. So the question becomes, how do waxy monkey tree frogs protect their skin from the sun? Sunscreen!

Of course, that brings up another question…how does a frog get sunscreen? Their bodies produce a waxy substance that they rub all over their bodies. They have extremely flexible arms and legs and joints so they can reach all the tricky parts. For waxy monkey tree frogs, though, they are not just protecting themselves against sunburn. They use the sunscreen to keep their skin from drying out. Check out the video – it’s funny.

Creature Feature #2: Toucans

Another animal adaptations book in my picture book science series is about birds: Spit Nests, Puke Power, and Other Brilliant Bird Adaptations (Nomad Press, August 2020). While I’ve always liked birds, doing the research for the book gave me an entirely new appreciation. Take toucans, for example.

They are known for their large, colorful beaks. But did you know how amazing those beaks really are? I didn’t. To start, those oversized beaks help toucans stay cool in the tropics because the beaks are laced with blood vessels; as blood pumps into the bill, excess body heat can escape. Toucans also use their bills to pluck fruit from trees or to reach into tree cavities to steal eggs from other birds. Their bills are also useful for digging out a hole in a tree for a nest. And, best of all, toucans use their beaks to play catch during mating season, tossing fruit back and forth to each other!

One last thing – even though their bills are huge (sometimes as much as 4 times the size of their head and almost as long as their body), they are lightweight because they are made out of keratin, the same material as our hair and fingernails are made of.

Creature Feature #1: Camels

In a few short weeks, my picture book science series about animal adaptations will make its way into the world (Nomad Press, August 2020). I can’t wait to share these books with kids – they are gross, silly, and fun. My goal with the series was to go beyond simple adaptations kids may already be familiar with to adaptations that are strange and amazing and, well, gross.

The first creature I would like to feature is from the mammal book, Stink Fights, Earwax, and Other Marvelous Mammal Adaptations – camels. Camels, you ask? Camels are boring compared to star-nosed moles and platypuses (also in the book!). Oh, but they are not. They are marvelously adapted to living in the desert, which is why they’ve been called the “ships of the desert” for a very long time – for over 3,000 years domesticated camels have been used for transport across inhospitable terrain.

Let’s start with the fact that camels can survive without water for over a week, and several months without food (even losing up to 40% of their body weight). And did you know that camels’ humps are not filled with water? They are filled with fat that is utilized when there is little food to eat. It’s like having your own personal energy bar on your back. If you ever see a camel with a drooping hump (or two) you will know that it has used up its fat stores. Next, camels’ eyes have a clear inner eyelid to protect against blowing sand. In addition, they have not one, but two rows of eyelashes. Anyone who’s ever been to beach on a windy day knows how useful that adaptation is! Another way camels protect themselves against the blowing sand is by closing their nostrils…no one wants sand up their nose, even a camel.

You’ll have to read the book to learn more about other marvelous mammal adaptations!

Fireflies

Fireflies are one of the many magical parts of summer – the polka-dots of light blinking in the darkness on a warm night. There are approximately 2,000 species of fireflies around the world (150 of them in North America). Some do not even light up at all, but of those that do, each has their own unique pattern of blinking; it is a form of communication. The light helps the fireflies find potential mates. The ones we see flying around are usually males looking for a female. The females wait in the grass or bushes until they see something they like; then they will flash back…like, “Hey, I’m over here!” The two will continue flashing at one another until the male locates the female and they mate. Scientists also theorize that the light may be a warning to predators that they don’t taste very good.

Interestingly fireflies, also called “lightning bugs,” are not flies nor are they bugs. They are beetles… bioluminescent beetles. How do they do that, you wonder? It’s a chemical reaction. Fireflies have light organs under their abdomens that contain an organic compound called luciferin. When a firefly takes in oxygen it combines with the luciferin and creates the glow. The firefly can even regulate how much air they take in to create their lightning pattern!