Aquatic Adventures: Biome Explorers

Another book in my upcoming picture book science series explores Earth’s largest biome: water. Approximately 71 percent of the planet covered in it. And of all the water on Earth, over 96 percent is in the oceans.

In Aquatic Adventures: Biome Explorers, we start on the freshwater of the Mississippi River, fed by a huge basin that covers 32 US states and 2 Canadian provinces. Floating downstream we can watch for hundreds of different species of birds. The reason for this is that the Mississippi flyway is an important migration route. In fact, one third of all North American birds migrate along the Mississippi River!

Sanibel Florida

Once our journey reaches the delta, where the river meets the ocean, we head out to the Caribbean where it’s flip-flop season all year round. In the shallow coastal waters we might see Atlantic spotted dolphin, Bahama sea star, stingrays, Nassau grouper, spiny lobster, queen conch, and so much more. As we snorkel with the sea turtles we can explore the coral reefs, which support so much biodiversity they are often called the rainforests of the sea. Of all marine creatures, 90 percent live in these coastal waters.

Afterwards we head further out to sea where there is less biodiversity but still, beneath the surface there might be piglet squid, sea angels, northern comb jellyfish, or spoonarm octopus. And if we are lucky, we might see migrating whales.

For this adventure you’ll need a swimsuit, life jacket, and that sunscreen. Ahoy!

Destination Desert: Biome Explorers

Coming soon! In less than a month my latest picture book science series (Nomad Press) will hit the shelves. Before I started writing this series, I spent a great deal of time considering the format and tone of the books. After lots of notetaking and reading mentor texts, I decided that biomes deserve to be explored and experienced. The end result is that each book takes readers on a journey to visit the different types of a specific biome.

For example, did you know that there are four different types of deserts around the world? There are hot and dry deserts, semi-arid deserts, coastal deserts, and cold deserts. In Destination Desert: Biome Explorers we start in the Sahara, a hot, dry desert that gets less than three inches of rain per year and where temperatures regularly reach 110° F. Despite this, life thrives here – Dromedary camels, fennec foxes, deathstalker scorpions, ostriches, dung beetles, Sahara lovegrass, tamarisk shrubs, and much, much more. Each species of plant and animal is extremely well-adapted to the climate, and each has special ways to absorb and hold water.

A type of desert closer to home is the semi-arid desert of Utah with even more diversity of life, including jack rabbits, pronghorn, rattlesnakes, kangaroo rats, bats, skunks, and owls. It is slightly cooler there and there’s more precipitation. Still, like in the Sahara, most life is nocturnal.

I think the most interesting desert we visit in Destination Desert is the coastal desert of the Atacama where almost zero rain falls. Parts of it are so dry and barren, even bacteria struggle to survive. But here along the coast, there are cacti and guanacos eating the flowers off the cacti! This region is called a fog oasis. The fog drifts inland from over the ocean and when it condenses on the cactus spines dew collects. Animals can get moisture by lapping the dew off the plants or by eating the parts of the plant that aren’t prickly. Imagine drinking fog to stay hydrated!

The last destination in the book is the cold Gobi Desert of Asia. It’s very different from what you might imagine a desert to be because it gets so very cold in the winter. But it does get hot in the summer, and it is very dry. Still, like in the other deserts, live thrives here. You’d find grasses, herb meadows, wild onion, Bactrian camels, gazelles, jerboas, polecats, and even a bear – the rare Gobi bear!

So, pack up a hat, sunscreen, and a full water bottle and let’s go exploring!

Why Are Seashells Different Colors?

The seashells we find on the beach come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. Before they washed up on shore, those shells were the exoskeletons of marine invertebrates, mollusks, built by the animal to provide protection and a place to live.

Mollusks build and enlarge their shells as they grow. The shells are made largely of calcium carbonate with a pinch of protein (think of a construction site: the protein is the rebar that reinforces and supports everything, while the calcium carbonate is the cement poured over it to fill out the structure). Unlike the shells other animals, seashells are not made of living cells, nor do they have blood vessels or nerves.

Calcium carbonate, the main shell ingredient, is white. The different colors of shells come from the water in which the organism lives and its diet. For example, shells found in the warm waters of the Caribbean are more colorful than those of Maine thought largely due to the greater diversity of food sources in tropical waters. In addition, the color of a mollusk’s shell can also serve as camouflage, keeping it safe from predators. There are also shells that are colorful and shiny; this iridescent coating is called nacre and is produced by some bivalves (mussels, oysters, and clams) to protect their soft bodies from irritants and parasites. It is also the same material that creates a pearl – for more information on how a pearl is made, click here.

The next time you stroll along a beach, remember that every shell has a story to tell!

Songs of Summer

One of my favorite things about summer (though I will admit there are A LOT of things I love about this time of year) are the sounds. It feels like the whole world is humming and alive. Some of my earliest memories of summer are of listening to the “summer bugs” as I called them – the crickets, grasshoppers, locust, and cicadas. Of course there were also bees and wasps making the air buzz. I also remember sitting on the porch as thunderstorms approached. Oftentimes it was the distant sounds that had alerted us to its advance and sent us to the porch to wait. Even today I love to listen to storms as thunder clacks and booms, rolls and echoes. And I love the patter of each raindrop onto the roof or ground, each storm bringing a different rhythm and pace.

I also love to listen to the birds in the summer. Sure, there are birds around all year, but they sound happier and louder in the summer and there are a lot more of them. At sunrise the dawn chorus begins. Near me the melody of the house finches filles the air (a BIG song for such a small bird!). We also have grackles chittering away at each other. There’s the occasional screech of a nearby raptor. And the hammering sounds of woodpeckers or the musical trill of red-winged blackbirds. One of my kids recently used a bird song identification app in our yard and recorded close to 20 different species of birds!

There are many other songs of summer too: the crack of a bat at a baseball game and the roar of the crowd; the splashes and cheers and shrieks at the swimming pool; the crackle of a campfire and sizzle of food barbequing; the whistle, pop, and boom of fireworks on the Fourth of July; the ribbits and peeps of frogs in a pond; the quaking and rustling of aspen leaves; and the splash of an oar on the lake and the gentle lap of water against the side of a kayak.

Best of all, summer is a season that offers time to sit and listen. And the more time we devote to just sitting and just listening, the more we hear. What do you hear? What are the songs of your summer?